Coco Gauff

Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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?

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Coco Gauff stuns Naomi Osaka at Australian Open; Serena upset, Federer escapes

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Perhaps Serena Williams, now 38, will win a 24th Grand Slam title someday.

And maybe Coco Gauff, still just 15, never will earn her first major championship.

Sure felt, though, as if a generational shift was being signaled Friday at the Australian Open, with a pair of monumentally significant third-round results hours apart in the same stadium: a surprising first-week loss by Williams, then a historic victory by Gauff.

First, Williams faltered down the stretch for her earliest exit at Melbourne Park in 14 years, a 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5 loss to 27th-seeded Wang Qiang of China. It pushed Williams’ gap between Slam trophies to three years.

“I’m way too old to play like this at this stage of my career,” Williams said. “Definitely going to be training tomorrow, that’s first and foremost — to make sure I don’t do this again.”

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

Gauff also was planning a practice session for Saturday, but hers was to prepare for a fourth-round match.

That’s because the 67th-ranked Gauff took the latest step in her quick progression, becoming the youngest player in the professional era to eliminate the defending women’s champion at the Australian Open, beating former No. 1 Naomi Osaka 6-3, 6-4.

Only once the last point had been played did the preternaturally poised Gauff turn into a rather typical teen, joking about wanting to take “a selfie for Instagram” with Rod Laver, the 11-time major champion after whom the tournament’s main stadium is named.

“Honestly, like, what is my life? Like, oh, my gosh!” Gauff told the crowd. “Two years ago, I lost first round in juniors and now I’m here. This is crazy.”

It certainly is remarkable.

With a booming serve, a top-flight backhand and a winner’s mentality, Gauff reversed the result from the first time she was across the net from Osaka, a former No. 1 who already owns two major titles at the age of 22.

When they played each other at the U.S. Open last September, Osaka won in two quick sets and then consoled Gauff, encouraging her to speak to the spectators who were pulling for her.

One reminder of just how young Gauff is: Most of the entrants in this year’s junior Australian Open are older than she is.

Another: She is taking online classes and said she’s been given permission to turn in homework late, “considering the circumstances.”

Yet another: She doesn’t have an official driver’s license quite yet, stuck practicing behind the wheel with a learner’s permit.

But put a tennis racket in her hands and move out of the way: Gauff is now 8-2 in her nascent Grand Slam career, with three of those wins coming against women who have multiple major titles. Her next match is against No. 14 Sofia Kenin, a 21-year-old American who beat Zhang Shuai of China 7-5, 7-6 (7).

The most intrigue in men’s action came at the very end of the night — at nearly 1 a.m., actually, when Roger Federer reeled off the last six points to edge 47th-ranked Australian John Millman 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (8).

It lasted more than four hours in humid conditions, and Federer needed to overcome a hard-to-believe 48 unforced errors from his forehand and an 8-4 deficit in the last tiebreaker, which is first-to-10.

Federer had lost to Millman at the 2018 U.S. Open and it sure seemed this one might be headed that way again.

“Oh, God, it was tough,” Federer said.

Williams vs. Wang was a rematch from Flushing Meadows last season — and the reverse result also happened for them. At the U.S. Open, Williams won 6-0, 6-1 in 44 minutes.

Wang credited that with prompting her to spend more time in the gym so she could add more oomph to her shots.

“I always believed I could do this one day,” Wang said with a laugh. “I didn’t know which day.”

Like Wang, Gauff was much better Friday than in New York. Gauff’s improvement revealed itself in her serving — she put 15 of her initial 16 first serves in play — and her steadiness.

Gauff declared herself more calm for this matchup.

“That,” she decided, “made the difference.”

So did letting Osaka make the mistakes, 30 unforced errors in all, compared to 17 for Gauff.

With that, Gauff became the youngest player to beat a top-five opponent in a women’s tour-level match since Jennifer Capriati did it at 15 in 1991.

“You don’t want to lose to a 15-year-old, you know?” Osaka said.

So, Naomi, could you have done something differently?

“Put the ball in the court,” came the reply.

Williams had similar issues, and even though she went from a massive deficit to even as can be, she could not do what was required in the late going.

Down to what sure felt like her last chance, Williams came through with a cross-court forehand winner to close a 24-stroke point, then raised her arms, held that celebratory pose and looked over toward her guest box.

Finally, on her sixth try, after 1½ hours of action, she had managed to convert a break point against Wang. Soon enough, they were headed to a third set and it appeared that the comeback was on.

It turned out that Williams only was delaying a surprising defeat.

So tough at the toughest moments for so many years, Williams was the one who came undone, often displaying what she later called “the signature ‘Serena frustration’ look.”

Since grabbing major championship No. 23 at the 2017 Australian Open, while she was pregnant, Williams hasn’t added to her total.

She appeared in four major finals over the past two seasons, losing each one.

Williams owns seven trophies from the Australian Open and hadn’t lost as early as the third round at either of the hard-court Grand Slam tournaments — in Melbourne or at the U.S. Open — since all the way back in 2006.

This was the first Grand Slam tournament in 11 years with each of the top 10 seeded women reaching the third round. Who would have suspected Williams would be the first to lose, followed soon thereafter by No. 3 Osaka?

Williams was only seeded No. 8, on account of how infrequently she has competed since being away from the tour while having a baby in September 2017.

She started 2020 well enough, winning a hard-court tuneup title in Auckland, New Zealand, this month for her first trophy of any sort in three years — and first as a mom.

But Williams wasn’t able to carry that success to the Grand Slam level, where it matters the most to her.

She began her news conference by crediting Wang but eventually shifted to criticizing herself for not playing well enough to win.

“I didn’t return like Serena. Honestly, if we were just honest with ourselves, I lost that match,” Williams said. “I can’t play like that. I literally can’t do that again. It’s unprofessional. It’s not cool.”

MORE: Top U.S. tennis player unlikely to play Olympics

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!