Coco Gauff dismissed that it made any difference. But as she rallied from a one-set hole in the U.S. Open first round for a second straight year, this much was noticeable: silence.
Gauff, the 16-year-old U.S. tennis sensation, was eliminated on the opening day of a fan-less major by No. 31 seed Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.
It was no upset. Sevastova is ranked six spots higher than No. 51 Gauff.
But it took the 30-year-old Latvian four match points to finish Gauff, who had already rebounded from a 2-4 hole in the second set. As a grinding third set wore on, it conjured memories of Gauff’s trio of three-setters from 2019 at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, all of which she won.
But this one was different. The atmosphere — the screeching of train cars in Queens replaced the raucous Louis Armstrong Stadium crowds pulling for Gauff a year ago. And the result — Gauff’s first defeat in the first round of a Grand Slam in her fourth main-draw appearance.
“I compete just as hard with fans or not,” said Gauff, who had 13 double faults and 40 unforced errors. “I could have played better today.”
The environment was a new experience for everybody. No ticketed spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic, and few people at all watching in person.
Gauff could have been reminded of her not-too-distant junior days before she burst onto the scene last summer, becoming the youngest woman to reach Wimbledon’s fourth round since Jennifer Capriati and the youngest to reach the U.S. Open third round since Anna Kournikova.
“I just got on tour a little over a year ago, so I still have a lot to learn and a long ways to go,” she said. “I’m playing against people older than me who have been in more situations, difficult situations, than I have. I think the biggest thing is I just need experience.”
She will get that. Gauff, who is also entered in doubles, will after the U.S. Open head to Europe for her first French Open main-draw appearance. She won her one and only junior Grand Slam title at Roland Garros.
She showed precociousness off the court on June 3, delivering a speech off the cuff at a peaceful protest in her Florida hometown, demanding change and promising to use her platform to spread vital information.
“This summer I learned a lot about myself,” Gauff said Monday. “I learned that I can overcome a lot of things on and off the court. I still hope I can be that way and use my platform in that way.”
Sevastova moved to 2-8 for 2020, the wins over Gauff and Serena Williams. The Latvian marveled at Gauff’s movement, awareness and backhand.
“It’s uncomfortable to play her,” said Sevastova, a 2018 U.S. Open semifinalist. “I wish I would play like this when I was 16 years old.”
Williams begins another quest for a 24th Grand Slam singles title on Tuesday. She will hope to have better luck than the group of U.S. women who have gone 1-8 so far. A total of 31 Americans are in the 128-player draw, the most since 1993.
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