Dubai Duty Free Tennis: Rising American star Coco Gauff storms into semifinals

But she faces a tough challenge against world No1 Iga Swiatek in the semifinal

By Joy Chakravarty

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Coco Gauff of the US hits a return during her quarterfinal match at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Thursday. — Photo by Shihab
Coco Gauff of the US hits a return during her quarterfinal match at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Thursday. — Photo by Shihab

Published: Thu 23 Feb 2023, 8:19 PM

Coco Gauff hardly broke a sweat as she waltzed through her all-American battle against Madison Keys.

Friday's match, though, will be a completely different matter.

The fifth seed was always expected to get the better of Keys, ten years her senior, in the quarterfinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. It took her to a first-ever semifinal in Dubai, but also puts her up against world No1 Iga Swiatek.

The Polish star is a puzzle Gauff hasn’t been able to solve. The two have met five times before, and each match has ended in a straight-set defeat. The only time Gauff scored better than a 6-3 game was in the first-ever match they played – in the 2021 Rome semifinals, which went to a tie-breaker.

After her 6-2, 7-5 win in one hour and 21 minutes over Keys, Gauff was asked in the courtside interview if she has learned anything from the five defeats. She burst out laughing and said: “That I did something wrong five times!”

The 19-year-old, who lost the French Open final to Swiatek last year, said the one advantage she has over her opponent is that she has absolutely no pressure and can freewheel through the match.

“To be honest, she’s playing great tennis and there’s a reason why she’s the number one,” said the promising American, who grew up admiring the Williams sisters.

“So, tomorrow is tomorrow. I have no pressure. I think I’m just going to try to play my game. I definitely think I’ve gotten better since the last time I played her.

“But you know, ranking is just a number at the end of the day. It’s going to be a challenge. But, to be honest, I think it’s a good matchup just to see where I can maybe improve on. You just have to go out on the courts believing you can win even when the odds seem stacked against you.”

Against Keys, Gauff started by breaking her serve off the blocks. She herself was broken only once, in the fourth game of the second set. But that was after she had already gone up after another early break.

Gauff’s athleticism and returns stood out as she ran down several balls.

“Maddie is a big server so, I was surprised how many returns I was able to get in the court. I think in the first set I returned very well,” said Gauff, who reached the semifinals of a WTA 1000 event for the second time in her career after 2021 Rome.

“I was just staying in the moment and setting the good shot. She’s a great player and not easy to compete against, and she has some great wins this week. I knew it was going to be a tough match and I’m glad that I stayed stable when I needed to.”

Meanwhile, Swiatek got a day off as she progressed to the semifinals without hitting a single ball. The 22-year-old was scheduled to meet the resurgent Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals, but the 30-year-old from Czech Republic pulled out with a viral illness.

Pliskova had recorded straight-set wins over Marketa Vondrousova and then dumped the sixth seed Maria Sakkari. She won a tough three-setter against Anhelina Kalinina 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-2 before making the decision to skip the quarterfinal match.


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