Wayne Coffey, Special for USA TODAY
Published 6:43 p.m. ET Aug. 31, 2020 | Updated 8:37 p.m. ET Aug. 31, 2020
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NEW YORK — The tennis wunderkind of 2019 morphed into a first-round washout on Day 1 of the 2020 U.S. Open on Monday, when 16-year-old Coco Gauff struggled to find her serve, or the remarkable escape skills that made her famous last year, when she was a mere 15.
Gauff, of Delray Beach, Florida, and ranked No. 51, had heralded runs to the round of 16 at Wimbledon and the round of 32 in Flushing Meadows last year, and made another Grand Slam round of 16 in Australia in January. But it was a completely different outcome in Louis Armstrong Stadium, as Gauff got taken down by No. 45 Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
Gauff had 12 double faults in the first two sets, and though she rallied admirably to take the second, and fought off three match points in the 10th game of the third, she wobbled with her net game and forehand, unable to sustain momentum in a wildly up and down match.
“I still have a lot to learn and a long ways to go,” Gauff said.
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A massive fan favorite in her brief time in the world tennis orbit, Gauff undoubtedly would’ve had a packed house pulling for her in a normal year, but she refused to use the absence of spectators as an excuse. She said she’d get back to practice to sharpen her game, and talked about how much she is looking forward to playing doubles with her friend, Caty McNally.
“I think I compete just as hard with fans or not,” Gauff said. “I could have played better today.”
Sevastova, 30, a former top-15 player who made it to the Open semifinals just two years ago, looked to be on the brink of a mental meltdown after a series of errors cost her the second set. She got a code violation for ball abuse, swung her racket angrily and raged at herself on a changeover. After the set, she resorted to a time-honored tactic – a potty break – to help reset herself.
Playing Gauff for the first time, Sevastova could see what all the fuss is about.
“I wish I would play like this when I was 16 years old,” she said. “(She’s a) great player. Nothing more to say. I think she maybe started a bit slower than me, but she was getting better as the match went on. She was serving better, moving better. … She’s moving so well, it’s tough to finish the point. It’s uncomfortable to play her.”