Coco Gauff: Will She Thrive As The Underdog Against Sabalenka?

Coco Gauff Australian Open

Last year’s US Open champion Coco Gauff has built on her historic triumph in New York with a run to the semifinal at the Australian Open. Yet, the 19-year-old is seen by the vast majority in the tennis world as the underdog for her semifinal. Defending champion Aryna Sabalenka has been in terrific form throughout the tournament so far and has not dropped a set. Toppling Sabalenka will be a challenge, but has Gauff been written off too quickly? And could being the underdog actually help her?

Will Gauff Thrive As The Underdog Against Sabalenka?

Her Path To The Semifinal So Far

Gauff has slipped somewhat under the radar so far at the Australian Open This is partly due to the chaos that has surrounded her in the draw. This includes Iga Swiatek’s loss to Linda Noskova and Elena Ryabkina exiting after one of the most dramatic tiebreaks of all time against Anna Blinkova. Gauff’s doubles partner Jessica Pegula and Marketa Vondrousova were two other examples of early upsets in the women’s draw. By contrast, Sabalenka has generated some attention for the devastating nature of some of her performances, such as a 6-0 6-0 thrashing of Lesia Tsurenko in the third-round. That level has made her a firm favourite among many for the title, particularly in light of Swiatek and Rybakina being knocked out.

Those factors meant Gauff’s first four performances in Melbourne did not generate much attention. She was actually very impressive against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Caroline Dolehide, Alycia Parks and Magdalena Frech, not dropping a set in any of those matches. Most of the talk surrounding the American concerns her quarterfinal performance against Marta Kostyuk. The first two sets were not of great quality, but Gauff fought through in over three hours after improving in the third set.

It is true that the 19-year-old’s level will need to be much better than her last match to have a chance against Sabalenka. However, her chances should not be ruled out based on that. There are reasons to believe Gauff could challenge the defending champion.

Three Reasons Gauff Could Defeat Sabalenka

1. Gauff Has Proven She Can Dig In

Gauff was not near her best against Kostyuk. But she did something her coach Brad Gilbert has spoken about a lot, and that is “winning ugly.” While it is true that the former French Open runner-up needs to improve against Sabalenka, the match against Kostyuk may have been one she would have lost in the past. Having the stomach for the fight was something Gauff also proved in her run to the US Open title. She recovered from a set down against Laura Siegemund, Elise Mertens and against Sabalenka in the final.

Gauff’s grit and determination is something that has improved since Gilbert became involved. Even if Sabalenka starts quickly or goes through strong spells, Gauff is unlikely to panic. That mindset gives her a fighting chance in all big matches.

2. The Memories of Beating Sabalenka in a Grand Slam Final

This is the first time that Sabalenka plays Gauff since her loss in the US Open final to the American. While Sabalenka’s current form in Melbourne counts for a lot, that past match will give Gauff a welcome boost. It was the Belarusian who became tight in that contest and Gauff who handled the pressure much the better of the two players. Sabalenka’s excellent level heading into this match only matters if she can find it in a big occasion and under pressure. She may well do so and produce tennis that is near unplayable. However, the US Open final could give Gauff a slight mental edge and any small advantage makes a difference in an encounter of such magnitude.

3. A Lot of Pressure is Off Gauff

There are two ways that the pressure on Gauff’s shoulders has been lessened. Firstly, despite her young age, there had been much noise in the media before last year’s US Open about when she would win her first Grand Slam. Indeed, Gauff has admitted that she did feel some pressure to win a Grand Slam as a teenager. That expectation has been removed and she has looked visibly relaxed in her Australian Open interviews throughout the tournament. Secondly, her below-par display against Kostyuk means Sabalenka has become an even stronger favourite. Some may think seems disrespectful to the US Open champion but Gauff is unlikely to mind. More of the spotlight is on Sabalenka and she needs to produce strong tennis under those conditions.

Gauff can go out on Rod Laver Arena with more freedom than her opponent. It far from guarantees victory and she will need to play a superb match. But does the world No. 4 have a chance? Absolutely.

Main Photo Credit: Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports








More Posts

Send Us A Message