At Australian Open, Coco Gauff set to have familiar first-round opponent: Venus Williams
|Toronto Star 16 Jan 2020 at 09:52|
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—In only her third Grand Slam event, Coco Gauff has challenges lined up that will already be familiar to her, as revealed in the Australian Open draw ceremony on Thursday evening.
Gauff, 15, will open in the first round against seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, 39, as she did in the first round of Wimbledon last year. Gauff, then ranked outside the Top 300, became an international sensation by beating Williams, a five-time Wimbledon champion, 6-4, 6-4. Gauff backed up the win with a run to the fourth round, where she lost to the eventual champion, Simona Halep.
Williams has pulled out of Australian lead-up tournaments this month in Brisbane and Adelaide, citing a hip injury, but she has been training in Melbourne this week.
Should Gauff advance to the third round in Melbourne, she could go up against defending champion Naomi Osaka, seeded third in the U.S. She faced Osaka in the third round of last year’s U.S. Open, where Osaka was also the defending champion. Osaka won that meeting, 6-3, 6-0, and consoled a despondent Gauff at the net after match point, creating one of the tournament’s most celebrated moments of sportsmanship.
Gauff’s star-studded section is part of a cluster of tough opponents in her quarter. Two seeded Americans, the 14th-seeded Sofia Kenin and the 24th-seeded Sloane Stephens, await as possible fourth-round opponents for whoever advances through that section.
The eighth-seeded Serena Williams, who is seeking a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title here, awaits as a possible quarterfinal opponent. Williams was dealt a favourable path in the first week of the tournament, opening against 90th-ranked Anastasia Potapova, then facing 69th-ranked Tamara Zidansek or 177th-ranked Han Na-lae in the second round.
Caroline Wozniacki, the former WTA No. 1 who has announced she is playing her final tournament here before retiring, is a possible fourth-round opponent for Serena Williams. Wozniacki opens against the American Kristie Ahn.
Top-seeded Ashleigh Barty leads the top half of the draw, which includes all of the aforementioned players. She opens against 120th-ranked Lesia Tsurenko. The seventh-seeded Petra Kvitova, the runner-up here last year to Osaka, is also in her quarter of the draw.
The bottom half of the women’s draw is anchored by the second-seeded Karolina Pliskova, who won the prestigious lead-up tournament in Brisbane last week. Pliskova has a tricky opening match against the 39th-ranked Kristina Mladenovic, to whom she has lost two of four matches. The bottom half of the draw also features the fourth-seeded Halep, the fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina and the sixth-seeded Belinda Bencic.
The men’s draw has a seemingly more even distribution of contenders. Top-seeded Rafael Nadal, who would tie Roger Federer for the all-time men’s lead with a 20th Grand Slam title here, opens against the 72nd-ranked Hugo Dellien of Bolivia.
Nadal has an eye-catching possible fourth-round match against Nick Kyrgios, the flashy Australian who has won two of his three meetings with Nadal on hard courts. In the quarter-finals, Nadal could face the fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem, whom he has beaten in the French Open final each of the last two years.
Frances Tiafoe, the ebullient American who broke through to a quarterfinal run here last year, was dealt one of the toughest draws, having to open against the fourth-seeded Daniil Medvedev, the second-highest seed in Nadal’s half. Medvedev, who pushed Nadal to five sets in last year’s U.S. Open final, could face the 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round, and the seventh-seeded Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals.
On the bottom half of the draw, third-seeded Federer opens against the American Steve Johnson, ranked 81st. The seeded player he could face in the third round is the 31st-seeded Hubert Hurkacz, a lanky Pole who improved his ranking by 50 spots last season. Federer could face 18th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, who beat him in the U.S. Open quarter-finals last year, in the fourth round, and the eighth-seeded Matteo Berrettini in the quarter-finals.
The last quarter of the men’s draw is anchored by seven-time champion Novak Djokovic, who is seeded second. Djokovic was dealt one of the toughest opening rounds, against 37th-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff, a tall and powerful German whom Djokovic beat in the fourth round of last year’s French Open.
Smoke haze again forces delay in Australian Open qualifying
The tournament’s director, Craig Tiley, on Thursday addressed players’ concerns about the smoke from Australia’s ongoing wildfires, which delayed play during qualifying matches on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tiley said play would be suspended if the air quality index, which measures the pollutants known as PM 2.5, exceeded 200, as it did on Wednesday.
Before the draw was made on Thursday, local hopes were dealt a blow with the withdrawal of the top Australian male player, the 21st-ranked Alex de Minaur, who withdrew due to an abdominal tear he suffered during the ATP Cup last week while playing for the Australian team.
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De Minaur admitted he may have been swept up by the patriotic fervour stoked in the new national team event, pushing through pain that he started feeling in his second of five matches, and jeopardizing his chances of playing his country’s premier tournament, where he reached the third round last year.
“Playing for your country, it’s a different feeling: I’m going to do everything to leave it all out there,” de Minaur said. “It looks like, this time, that’s sort of pushed me back for a bit.”