Coco Gauff

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Sofia Kenin leads U.S. Olympic tennis qualifying after Australian Open

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Sofia Kenin not only earned her first Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open, but she also moved closer to one of her modest goals for 2020: qualifying for her first Olympics.

Kenin supplanted Serena Williams atop U.S. Olympic qualifying standings more than halfway through the process. The top four U.S. singles players in the WTA Rankings after the French Open in June are in line to play in Tokyo.

Kenin is all but assured a spot, since she is more than 3,000 points ahead of the No. 5 American, Coco Gauff. A Grand Slam title nets a player 2,000 points. Second-tier tournaments like in Miami and Indian Wells in March offer 1,000 points to winners.

Kenin plays doubles with countrywoman Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who has signaled her intent for the Tokyo Games. If the current singles standings hold, and Mattek-Sands is added to the Olympic team for doubles with Kenin, one discretionary doubles spot would be left.

The U.S. Tennis Association could go with the next-highest-ranked singles player — currently the 15-year-old Gauff — or perhaps Venus Williams, the most decorated Olympic tennis player in history, to pair with Serena. Gauff is younger than any Olympic tennis player since Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova in 1996.

Venus Williams, who turns 40 on June 17, could become the second-oldest female Olympic tennis player in the modern era after Martina Navratilova (47 at the 2004 Athens Games).

The U.S. men’s picture is far different. The top American in Olympic qualifying — Sam Querrey — ruled out playing in the Olympics. The top U.S. man in current ATP rankings — No. 18 John Isner — said he’s leaning to skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

That U.S. should still qualify four men for the field of 64 with the likes of 22-year-old Taylor Fritz and Australian Open quarterfinalist Tennys Sandgren.

Notably, two men who are currently not in outright Olympic singles qualifying position: Brit Andy Murray, who won the last two Olympic titles, and Japan’s most decorated player, Kei Nishikori. Murray and Nishikori missed the Australian Open with injuries.

However, there is one Olympic place reserved for a past Olympic or Grand Slam champion — should his nation not have qualified the full four singles spots — which would conceivably go to Murray. And Nishikori, who last played at last summer’s U.S. Open, can take a protected ranking.

U.S. Olympic tennis singles qualifying standings through Australian Open:

Women
1. Sofia Kenin — 4,051 points
2. Serena Williams — 3,595
3. Alison Riske — 2,053
4. Madison Keys — 1,972
5. Coco Gauff — 979
6. Jennifer Brady — 726
7. Danielle Collins — 692
Outside the top 10
Venus Williams — 449
Sloane Stephens — 431

Men
1. Sam Querrey — 920 (skipping Olympics)
2. Taylor Fritz — 900
3. John Isner — 890 (likely skipping Olympics)
4. Tennys Sandgren — 727
5. Reilly Opelka — 705
6. Tommy Paul — 615
7. Steve Johnson — 580

MORE: Coco Gauff eyes Olympics; can she qualify?

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Coco Gauff, eliminated from Australian Open by Sofia Kenin, eyes Olympics

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — It made sense to Sofia Kenin that Coco Gauff would be the one getting all of the attention and generating all of the buzz.

That’s only natural when Gauff is 15 and making tennis history time and time again.

“Yeah, I mean, the hype is for her. She’s obviously done great stuff, of course. It’s absolutely normal. Just (tried) not to let that get in my head,” Kenin said. “Of course, I didn’t do it for the hype. I did it for myself, because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.”

Well, Sofia, you did it. Now get ready for the spotlight to shine your way. Kenin stopped Gauff’s latest Grand Slam run by beating her 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 in the Australian Open’s fourth round on Sunday.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

Like Gauff, Kenin is a young — although, at 21, not quite as young — American and she reached her first major quarterfinal with the victory.

“I want to show who I am, show my best tennis, show why I’m there, why I belong,” the 14th-seeded Kenin said. “I’m doing that.”

In her previous match, the 67th-ranked Gauff beat Naomi Osaka to become the youngest player in the professional era to defeat the reigning women’s champion at the Australian Open. At Wimbledon last year, Gauff became the youngest qualifier ever at that tournament, beat Venus Williams in the first round and made it all the way to the fourth.

Entering Sunday, Gauff was 8-2 in Grand Slam action, with her only losses to women who have been ranked No. 1 and own multiple major titles: Simona Halep (at Wimbledon) and Osaka (at the U.S. Open).

Hence the aforementioned hype.

“I couldn’t really write this,” Gauff said. “I don’t think anybody could really write how this past (several) months have gone.”

She did not play as well as she has been this time, though, winding up with 48 unforced errors, more than twice as many as Kenin’s 22.

Gauff’s power is impressive. One tiny indication: She slammed a forehand into the net so hard that it dislodged a piece of a sponsor’s white plastic sign.

Kenin can’t copy that.

But thanks to her relentless ball-tracking and a bit of in-your-face attitude with a racket in hand, Kenin surged up the WTA rankings from 52nd to 12th in 2019 while winning her first three tour-level singles titles plus a couple in doubles.

“She definitely put a lot of balls in the court,” Gauff said. “She’s quick.”

Gauff’s play dating to Wimbledon catapulted her to fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying, but she has half the points as fourth-place Madison Keys, and a country can’t qualify more than four players in singles. The Olympic field will be determined by the WTA rankings after the French Open in June.

Gauff said she will play “maybe three tournaments” before the French. She is limited to one more tournament in the next month and a half until she turns 16, per age rules.

“[The Olympics] is definitely the goal,” Gauff said. “Hopefully I can get my ranking up and qualify. … It’ll be difficult. I’m going to try as hard as possible. I definitely do want to play the Olympics.”

Just before Gauff announced herself last season, Kenin delivered her own breakthrough at the French Open by upsetting Serena Williams to get to the round of 16 at a major for the first time.

Now Kenin has taken another step.

Wasn’t easy, though.

After double-faulting twice in the tiebreaker to drop the opening set — “For sure, nerves,” Kenin acknowledged — she immediately tilted things the other way, breaking in the initial game of the second and never letting that lead slip away.

When it ended, appropriately enough, on a missed backhand by Gauff, Kenin dropped her racket at the baseline and covered her face as tears welled in her eyes.

“Anyone would get pretty emotional for the first time,” said Kenin, who next faces another woman making her Slam quarterfinal debut, 78th-ranked Ons Jabeur of Tunisia.

Jabeur was a 7-6 (4), 6-1 winner against 27th-seeded Wang Qiang, who surprised Serena Williams in the third round.

The wins for Kenin and Jabeur ended at about the same time, and the future opponents soon found each other cooling down side-by-side on exercise bicycles.

Kenin laughed as she described the scene this way: “She’s like, ‘Good job.’ I’m like, ‘You, too.’ It was fun, a funny moment. She’s like, ‘Are you feeling tired?’ ‘No, I’m good.’ She’s like, ‘Yeah, me, too.’ I’m like, ‘OK. I’ll see you on Tuesday, then.’”

Also advancing to a quarterfinal showdown were No. 1 Ash Barty — trying to become the first Australian to win the nation’s Grand Slam tournament since the 1970s — and last year’s runner-up in Melbourne, Petra Kvitova.

Reigning French Open champion Barty moved on with a 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 win against No. 18 Alison Riske of the United States, who double-faulted on the last point.

Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, was down a set and a break before coming back to defeat No. 22 Maria Sakkari 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-2.

“I love Petra,” said Barty, who lost to Kvitova in Australia a year ago, “but let’s hope she doesn’t break my heart.”

In men’s fourth-round action, defending champion Novak Djokovic moved into a matchup against No. 32 Milos Raonic. Roger Federer was scheduled to play during the night’s last match against unseeded Marton Fucsovics, with the winner to face 100th-ranked Tennys Sandgren of the United States.

Raonic, the 2016 Wimbledon runner-up, was asked whether he thinks Djokovic, who owns 16 Grand Slam titles, eventually will catch Federer, who has 20.

“I just hope,” Raonic replied, “I can stop him at this one.”

Sandgren reached his second quarterfinal in Melbourne, reprising his 2018 feat by coming out on top in a physical, contentious encounter with No. 12 Fabio Fognini of Italy 7-6 (5), 7-5, 6-7 (2), 6-4.

Sandgren ended it with a marvelous drop volley to cap a 26-stroke exchange, then took a bow.

“I was expecting a fight,” Sandgren said. “And a fight we had.”

MORE: Top U.S. tennis player leaning toward skipping Olympics

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Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff set Australian Open duel

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Plenty was going badly for Coco Gauff in the second round of the Australian Open.

The double-faults kept coming Wednesday, nine in all. The deficits, too: First, she dropped the opening set against 74th-ranked Sorana Cirstea.

Then, after forcing a third, Gauff fell behind by a break, ceding 14 of 16 points with a series of mistakes. Later, after getting even at 3-all, Gauff was a mere two points from a loss.

None of that mattered. As she keeps showing, over and over, Gauff is not a typical 15-year-old. Not a typical tennis player, either.

And by getting past Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in a little more than two hours thanks to a more aggressive approach in the late going, she now has set up yet another Grand Slam showdown against Naomi Osaka.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

“I kind of felt the momentum changing,” Gauff said about turning things around against Cirstea. “I knew I had to keep pressing.”

Less than five months after their memorable meeting at the U.S. Open — Osaka won that one in straight sets, then consoled a crying Gauff on court and encouraged her to address the spectators — the two will face each other again. Like that time, Osaka is the major’s reigning champion and Gauff is making her debut at the tournament.

“I think I’ll be less nervous this time,” said Gauff, who eliminated seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams in the first round Monday. “I think I’m more confident this time around.”

As for what sticks with her about the post-match comforting Osaka offered in New York, Gauff said: “If I had a child or something, that’s something I would want my child to see. It just shows what being a competitor really is. You might hate the person on the court, but off the court you love them — not really, like, ‘hate,’ but you want to win. Sometimes when we’re on the court, we say things we don’t mean because we have that mentality. When it’s all said and done, we still look at each other with respect.”

Other winners included Serena Williams — 6-2, 6-3 against Tamara Zidansek in a match that finished with the Rod Laver Arena retractable roof closed because of rain — No. 1 Ash Barty, 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki and two-time major champion Petra Kvitova, the runner-up to Osaka in Australia a year ago.

In the last featured match of the night, No. 10 Madison Keys defeated Arantxa Rus 7-6 (7-3), 6-2.

Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic required all of 95 minutes to breeze past Japanese wild-card entry Tatsuma Ito 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, while Roger Federer swept Filip Krajinovic 6-1, 6-4, 6-1.

Gauff was not at her very best on a windy afternoon against Cirstea but managed to figure her way out of trouble repeatedly. Gauff demonstrated plenty of grit, yes, and also enthusiasm, pumping herself up by shaking a fist and yelling, “Come on!” after most of her successful points down the stretch.

All the while, Gauff was supported by a Melbourne Arena crowd that chanted, “Let’s go, Coco! Let’s go!”

Her father, Corey, was animated in the stands, too, except when he was squeezing his eyes shut at critical moments.

There were several of those for his precocious daughter, who was ranked only 313th last year when she became the youngest player in history to qualify for Wimbledon, then wound up beating Williams there en route to the fourth round.

It is a measure of her came-so-soon stardom that Gauff was playing at Melbourne Park’s third-largest stadium Wednesday, even though this was a matchup between a pair of players ranked outside the top 60 and with one career Grand Slam quarterfinal between them, more than a decade ago (Cirstea made it that far at the 2009 French Open).

Indeed, every Grand Slam singles match — “every” being a relative term, of course, because this was No. 9 — of the 67th-ranked Gauff’s nascent career has been placed on a show court.

This was the first main draw match at a major for Gauff in which she held a better ranking than her opponent.

Didn’t seem that way at the outset: Gauff dropped the first set. After forcing things to a third, she trailed 3-0. After making it 3-3, Gauff needed to get through one more gut-check: Twice, she was two points from departing.

But the American teenager broke in the next-to-last game, then held to win.

How did Gauff get through this test?

“Just my will to win,” she said. “My parents, they always told me I can come back, no matter what the score is.”

Osaka worked through some frustrations Wednesday by grabbing her racket with both hands and chucking it to the ground, tossing away a tennis ball and kicking the racket along the court, to boot.

Then she plopped herself down on her sideline seat and draped a towel over her head. Soon, she was gathering herself and defeating Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4.

“I mean, my racket just magically flew out of my hand. I couldn’t control it,” Osaka said with a mischievous smile. “I think that’s how I dealt with my frustration. It was a bit childish. I just want to play one match without throwing my racket or kicking it. That’s all I want.”

Perhaps because her news conference took place while Gauff and Cirstea were still playing, Osaka deflected a question seeking some sort of lookahead to the third round, saying simply she would go watch the end of that match.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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