Coco Gauff likes a fast-paced match, and she got the opposite in the first round of the U.S. Open against German qualifier Laura Siegemund.
It nearly rattled the No. 6-seeded American. It briefly took her out of her game. It resulted in a tense, two-hour and 51-minute battle in which both players unleashed their frustrations on the umpire.
But Gauff overcame her first-set struggles and pulled out a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Siegemund at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday night, in front of an animated audience that included Barack and Michelle Obama.
The win was Gauff’s sixth in a row and tees up a second-round bout with 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva of Russia on Wednesday.
“She’s a tricky opponent in general, she does a lot of quirky stuff, like the slices and coming to the net and all of that,” Gauff said after the match. “I played her before in the past, obviously a long time ago. I think I lost. I’m just happy that I was able to overcome all that.
“I wasn’t playing my best tennis, but usually every Grand Slam you have one bad match. I was glad I was able to get that out of the way in the first round.”
There was nothing easy about this matchup for Gauff, who let Siegemund dictate the pace and dominate at the net in the first set. Siegemund won 10 of 13 net points in the first frame, attacking with a precision that Gauff struggled to answer.
So for the second straight consecutive Grand Slam, Gauff flirted with a first-round exit.
It was only after a riveting, 26-minute first game of the second frame that Gauff swung the momentum in her favor.
In a game that required 12 deuces, Gauff finally converted her eighth break point when Siegemund’s forehand landed in the net.
That allowed Gauff to find her rhythm a bit, which prompted Siegemund to lean into her apparent strategy of slowing the game down as much as she possibly could.
Gauff expressed her displeasure with Siegemund’s deliberately sluggish pace after she had taken a 3-0 lead in the third set. Siegemund repeatedly went to the side to use the towel when it was Gauff’s serve, and even threw her hands up as if to say “I wasn’t ready” at one point.
“I don’t care what she’s doing on her serve, on my serve she has to be ready,” Gauff, dressed in a fluorescent yellow set, could be seen saying to umpire Marijana Veljovic.
Siegemund, who changed her outfit before the third set, lost her spark once she started complaining to the umpire about the rowdy fans sometime during the middle frame.
That, of course, only made the New Yorkers in attendance more rambunctious.
The Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd, however, was behind Gauff every step of the way anyway.
Whenever the 19-year-old needed a pick-me-up, there were incessant cheers.
Whenever she was staring down a break point, they hollered her name.
And those in the stands gave Siegemund the polar-opposite energy, borderline tormenting the 35-year-old whenever they could — and especially when the umpire penalized her for her second time violation in the third set.
“I was really patient the whole match,” Gauff said. “She was going over the time since the first set and I never said anything. I would look at the umpire and she didn’t do anything. Then, obviously, the crowd started to notice that she was taking long, so you would hear people in the crowd yelling, ‘Time!’ or doing the watch motion.”
Siegemund shook Gauff’s hand at the end of the match, but she walked right past Veljovic.
Gauff said she was thinking about coming off maturely during the heated moments of the night, noting she doesn’t usually like confrontation, but that she reached a frustration point that prompted her to voice her concerns.
Michelle Obama, whom Gauff met just before she walked into the press conference room after the match, reportedly approved.
“I think she was happy that I spoke up for myself today,” Gauff said with a smile.
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