Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Gauff Wins Opening Match at Dow Tennis Classic; Inaugural Cleveland Challenger Underway

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Midland Michigan--

Coco Gauff last played a competitive match in the final of the ITF Grade A Orange Bowl on December 9, coming from 4-2 down in the final set to claim the title.

The conditions could hardly be more different for her first round match at the ITF World Tennis Tour's Dow Tennis Classic in Midland Michigan Tuesday afternoon. Instead of the heat and humidity of South Florida, there was the snow and subzero temperatures dangerous enough for Michigan's governor to declare a state of emergency, and the 14-year-old from Delray Beach was facing not junior players, but top WTA professionals.

For her first match, she drew 19-year-old Ashley Kratzer, a fellow wild card, although Kratzer's WTA ranking is 246, much higher than Gauff's 684. Aside from a women's qualifying match at the US Open last year, Gauff had not played a pro event above the $25,000 level, but unlike her opponent in the Orange Bowl, she managed to recover from losing a big lead in the third set to record a 7-6(6), 6-7(6), 6-4 victory.

"My dad just told me to stay calm in the match, he didn't really care about the result," said Gauff, who is traveling with her father Corey, her primary coach, and Robbye Pool. "I wasn't really nervous, because I didn't have anything to lose, and I was just really happy I was chosen to get the wild card here. But I had never played a $100,000 before, and I looked at the draw and there were so many big names, some who have had good runs in grand slams, so I was just happy I was able to stand my ground today."

Gauff looked out of sorts to start the match, but she didn't think it was rust.

"I played a lot of practice matches, so I think it was more her coming out pretty fast," said Gauff, who didn't win her first point on Kratzer's serve until the left-hander's fourth service game. "She came out with big serves and winners and I needed to address her game quick, because I didn't know what to expect, to be honest. But next match, I definitely don't want to get down to where I'm down three set points."

Kratzer, the 2017 USTA National 18s champion, was up 5-3 40-0 serving for the set, but she was unable to convert any of them, double faulting at 40-30, then losing the next two points as well. Gauff held, letting out a loud "c'mon, let's go" when she won the game point for 5-5, and after two more holds, the set went to a tiebreaker. Gauff picked up her serving in the tiebreaker, and a exquisite backhand cross court pass gave her a 5-3 lead, but she lost that mini-break two points later. Gauff wasn't able to convert her first set point, but she got another opportunity when her deep return of a second serve forced an error. She converted on that second chance when Kratzer's backhand found the net.

Kratzer took a medical timeout and received treatment on her back, and she showed no signs of being hampered by it in the next two sets. She did get increasingly frustrated by the officiating, and began giving an audible accounting of the calls she believed the line judges and chair umpire had missed.

Despite lacking trust in the calls, Kratzer was able to keep up with Gauff, who was holding serve more easily, but the only break point in the second set came in the second game and Kratzer saved that.

Gauff took a 6-3 lead in the tiebreaker, but she couldn't convert any of her match points, with Kratzer winning both her points on serve with forehand winners and saving the third match point, on Gauff's serve, with a backhand winner.

Gauff double faulted to give Kratzer her first set point, and she converted when Gauff netted her return.

"If I would have made an error on those three match points, I would have been a little bit more upset," Gauff said. "But I made her play, and she just come out with good points, so there's really nothing I could have done, but play the third set."

Gauff said she did lose her composure momentarily after failing to close out the match but was pleased with how she recovered, breaking in the first game of the third set.

Gauff lost that break immediately but got another, with Kratzer increasingly frustrated with the calls. She received a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct and when she was broken again to give Gauff a 4-1 lead, she was given a point penalty for an audible obscenity, which was reported to the chair by a line judge. That was the only point Gauff got in the next game, and serving at 4-3 Gauff double faulted three times, with the last one, for the break, her 12th of the match.

But Kratzer couldn't capitalize, losing her serve at love, and Gauff was able to finish off the last game with no drama, with Kratzer sending a second serve return long on the first match point, ending the two-hour and 23-minute contest.

"I tried not to think about that," Gauff said of losing that 4-1 lead in the third. "For me, at least, just to keep me sane, I just think about what the score would have been if we both held serve, it would have been 4-all anyway. It might not work for other people, but it keeps me calm and it helped me. I knew I could break her, because I'd done it, and she was getting hot-headed too. She had code violations, a point penalty, so if she burst out again, it would have been a game penalty, so I was just try to keep pushing and make her nervous."

If top seed Rebecca Peterson of Sweden wins her match Wednesday against qualifier Chihiro Muramatsu of Japan, she will play Gauff on Thursday.

"It will be exciting, just to see where my level is at," Gauff said.

Three other first round matches were played during the day session Tuesday, with No. 5 seed Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic advancing with a 5-7, 6-2, 6-3 win over Mayo Hibi of Japan. Rebecca Marino won an all-Canadian battle with Katherine Sebov 6-3, 6-2 and Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay defeated Shilin Xu of China 3-6, 6-1, 6-3.

In the final round of qualifying, two Americans advanced to the main draw: No. 2 seed Robin Anderson and No. 5 seed Ann Li.  Anderson defeated No. 8 seed Lena Rueffer of Germany 6-2, 6-4 and Li took out Ana Sanchez of Mexico 6-4, 6-1. The only top six seed that failed to advanced was No. 4 Gail Brodsky, who lost to Muramatsu 6-1, 6-2. Quinn Gleason, the former Notre Dame star, led top seed Valeria Savinykh of Russia by a set and 4-1, but she lost 6-7(1), 7-5, 10-5.

Other seeds advancing are Serbia's Jovana Jaksic[3] and Poland's Urszula Radwanska[6].

The feature night match in singles is wild card Grace Min against 2018 finalist Jamie Loeb. Caty McNally, who plays her first singles match on Wednesday, got into the tournament in doubles on her own ranking, with Jessica Pegula. They will play Maegan Manasse(Cal) and Sanaz Marand(UNC) in tonight's featured doubles match.

The men are in another cold and snowy location this week for the ATP 90 event, being held for the first time in Cleveland. Because the draw is 48, not 32 as it is here in Midland, and their qualifying draw is just two matches, they began main draw matches on Monday.  Former Michigan star Jason Jung of Taiwan is the top seed. See the tournament site for the results and the draws. Live streaming is available at the ATP website.