MELBOURNE, Australia —
Everyone had the same question when the Australian Open draw was revealed: What were the odds that Coco Gauff and Venus Williams would face each other again in the first round at a Grand Slam tournament?
“I was a bit shocked,” Gauff said, “I’m sure everyone was a bit shocked.”
Gauff, 15, played Williams, 39, to begin her first appearance in the main draw at Melbourne Park, just like what happened at Wimbledon about six months ago. And, just like at the All England Club, the youngest woman in the field got the better of the oldest woman in the field, with Gauff beating Williams 7-6 (5), 6-3 on Monday.
“That was really difficult. She played really well,” Gauff said. “I was really nervous.”
It was the most anticipated match of Day 1 at the first major tennis tournament of the decade, and it did not disappoint. The first set, in particular, was intriguing, with Gauff repeatedly pulling ahead, only to have Williams — who already had won four of her seven Grand Slam singles trophies by the time her foe was born — rebuff her.
It wasn’t until her fourth set point that Gauff finally pulled it out. She quickly grabbed a 3-0 lead in the second and never let that edge go.
Gauff already has demonstrated all sorts of terrific qualities on a tennis court, from her big, gutsy serves to an ability to track down opponents’ shots. Now you can add stick-to-it-iveness to the list.
The match was held in Margaret Court Arena, one of three stadiums with a retractable roof, and that was a good thing. For all of the concern among some players entering the tournament about air quality because of wildfires burning in parts of the country, the big issue Monday was a heavy storm that arrived in the afternoon and suspended play on outside courts for hours.
Among the players who got a chance to play — and win — were Roger Federer, defending champion Naomi Osaka, 23-time major champion Serena Williams, and 2018 Australian Open winner Caroline Wozniacki, who is retiring after this tournament.
While Gauff improved to 2-0 against Venus Williams, neither player displayed her absolute best abilities for stretches: They combined for far more unforced errors, 71, than winners, 42.
One key was that Williams ended up with 41 of those miscues, 11 more than Gauff.
Another was that Williams, long one of the most feared servers on tour, was outdone in that category by her opponent on this day. Not only did Gauff face only two break points, saving one, but she often came up with the goods at the most crucial moments, pounding an ace at 115 mph, say, or hitting a risky second serve at a high velocity to the perfect spot to draw a no-good return.
All the while, Gauff was not shy about celebrating the biggest of points with a loud “Come on!” and a series of fist pumps.
Otherwise, she had her game face on, betraying little emotion, including when she walked out onto the court with earbuds in place after getting a pre-match peck on the cheek from her father, Corey, who also serves as Gauff’s coach.
Gauff is ranked 67th, and Williams, a former No. 1, is 55th. Williams was playing in a Grand Slam tournament’s main draw for the 85th time, a record for the professional era, but this also was her first match of 2020, because of a hip injury that sidelined her at the start of January.
This is Gauff’s third major, but she sure is precocious.
“She clearly wants it and works very hard and is extremely mature for her age,” Williams said. “The sky’s the limit for her.”
Ranked 313th, Gauff became the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history, then made it all the way to the fourth round, generating a ton of buzz, before losing to eventual champion Simona Halep. She backed that up with a run to the third round at the U.S. Open, then won her first WTA singles title later in the way.
The forehand that might have been the biggest question mark with her game after her breakthrough, seemed improved, yes, but still was a weakness Williams could test.
Another question entering this season had to be how Gauff would handle being someone everyone gears up for, someone everyone knows about, and someone who might need to deal with the pressure to perform and live up to the ever-growing and enormous expectations.
So far, so good.
Earlier Monday, Serena Williams, who is 38, did what her older sister couldn’t: defeat a teen.
Other than a brief second-set blip, Serena had very little trouble getting past 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova of Russia 6-0, 6-3 to begin her latest bid for a 24th Grand Slam singles championship.
Serena took the last three games of the match, then declared with a laugh: “I started out well today. Ended well.”
Her most recent major trophy came in Australia in 2017; that also had been her last title of any sort until this month, when she won a hard-court tuneup in Auckland, New Zealand.
Osaka, a two-time major champion at age 22, eliminated Marie Bouzkova 6-2, 6-4, while playing with her father in the audience for the first time at a major.
“He’s just superstitious,” Osaka said.
Federer’s first match of the season was a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over Steve Johnson of the U.S., making the 20-time Slam champ 21-0 in first-round matches at the Australian Open.
Seeded men who departed included No. 13 Denis Shapovalov and No. 25 Borna Coric.
Sam Querrey of the U.S. got past Coric in straight sets, while Marton Fucsovics of Hungary ousted Shapovalov 6-3, 7-6 (7), 6-1, 7-6 (3).
More AP Tennis: https://www.apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports