Grand Slam fever grips tennis fans all over the world as the 2023 Australian Open kicks off. For the next fortnight, The Indian Express will bring you the biggest storylines of the day, and the best matches to watch at timings suitable for Indian audiences, every morning.
(7) Coco Gauff vs Emma Raducanu (Round of 64)
1.30pm, Rod Laver Arena
When she defeated one of the greatest players of all-time, on one of the most storied courts at the age of 15, Coco Gauff could not help but be labelled a protégé.
When she became the first qualifier in the history of Grand Slam singles tennis to win a Major title, at the age of 18, Emma Raducanu could not help but be labelled as a protégé.
At the Australian Open on Wednesday, the two incredibly popular youngsters will face-off in a second-round match that the WTA Tour will hope blossoms into a competitive and exciting rivalry.
Gauff has been the steadier of the two, matching her gradual progress with rapid improvements to her game. The 19-year-old has long been touted to be the next undisputed great of American tennis, in the footsteps of the Williams sisters after beating Venus in a famous run to the fourth round at Wimbledon 2019.
A recently crowned World No. 1 doubles player, Gauff’s trajectory from top 100 breakthrough, to first WTA title, to top 25 breakthrough, to first Grand Slam final at last year’s French Open, has been just gradual enough for her to improve her level and mental sharpness.
Raducanu was not able to afford the same luxury. Despite playing a few promising matches at Wimbledon that year, nobody could have predicted what was to come. The absurdity of the circumstances of her 2021 US Open triumph – after admitting she simply hoped to get out of qualifying – catapulted her into overnight fame and attention. She has become one of the most famous tennis players in the UK’s history, one of the most recognisable faces in women’s tennis, and a global celebrity.
Her tennis – not entirely surprising since she had not even played a full year on tour by the time she was a Grand Slam champion – has failed to keep up with her fame. She has trained with at least four different coaches in just the last eighteen months, had multiple physical problems, and even when things are going her way, her level of tennis has paled in comparison to some of the top players on tour.
Gauff, on the other hand, has had a much easier time in forming her game. She arrives in Melbourne as a legitimate title contender, after winning the tune-up event in Auckland without dropping a set. Her powerful serve and backhand combination have been developing technically, while the biggest improvement is her problem-solving skills, able to have the presence of mind to make small tweaks that can make a difference. She is far from being the best she can be, but is evidently on her way to getting there.
Raducanu, on the other hand, is yet to find her footing on the pro tour. Her strengths are not as clearcut, despite having a solid backhand that could create some memorable crosscourt rallies with Gauff on Wednesday. She’s adept at the baseline exchanges, and boasts of natural power, but is yet to transform either into a hallmark, or develop other parts of her game to make it well-rounded.
The intrigue of the duo’s upcoming encounter does not necessarily rise from a potential blockbuster – ranking and recent results are both heavily on the side of Gauff – but from the magnitude of their star power that is evident when both top seeds – Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek – have been scheduled to play the day session as they take the first match of the night session on the Rod Laver Arena.
Barring any major lapses or an extraordinary Raducanu performance, expect Gauff to be in control. But those involved in women’s tennis will hope that even if the match does not live up to the billing, the rivalry, especially in a post-Serena Williams world, eventually does.
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