By Sudipto Ganguly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Crowd favorite Coco Gauff’s giant-killing run at the Australian Open came to an end on Sunday as the American teen bowed out in the fourth round after a 6-7(5) 6-3 6-0 defeat to compatriot Sofia Kenin.
‘Cocomania’ has gripped Melbourne Park since the 15-year-old beat seven-times Grand Slam winner Venus Williams in her opener and ousted 2019 champion Naomi Osaka in the third round — all on her Australian Open debut.
With the majority of the packed Melbourne Arena crowd egging her on, Gauff showed the hype was not misplaced with strong serves mixed with booming groundstrokes that often left her compatriot rooted to the spot.
She fought back from a slow start to level the first set and then built a comfortable lead in the tiebreaker to close it out.
“I got the Aussie chant today. I don’t know if it was because it is Australia Day,” said Gauff. “I really didn’t think I would be such a favorite.”
But Kenin did not fold.
The 14th seed, who at 21 is six years older than Gauff, did not try to match her opponent winner for winner in their first career meeting, instead focusing on keeping errors to a minimum.
That approach paid dividends, as while Gauff hit 39 winners to Kenin’s 28 the 15-year-old had 26 more unforced errors.
“My short-term goal is to improve,” said Gauff. “I’m doing well right now at 15. I still have so much I feel like I can get better on. I don’t even think this is close to a peak for me.”
Undeterred by chants of, ‘Let’s go, Coco, let’s go’, Kenin who fought her way back into the match, getting the crucial break in the second set when Gauff served three double faults in the fourth game.
Gauff had problems with her ball toss throughout the match, incurring seven double faults and managing to get just 56% of her first serves in while facing 12 breakpoints.
Kenin had three breaks of Gauff’s serve in the third set and burst into tears when her opponent’s backhand went long to send her into her first Grand Slam quarter-finals, bettering her fourth-round defeat at Roland Garros last year.
“I didn’t do it for the hype. I did it for myself because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” Kenin said. “I want to show who I am, show my best tennis, show why I’m there, why I belong. I’m doing that.”
She will next meet Tunisian Ons Jabeur, who beat Serena Williams’ conqueror Wang Qiang of China 7-6(4) 6-1 on the Margaret Court Arena, for a place in the last four.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)