Gauff, whose name is Cori but prefers to go by Coco, is the youngest woman to reach a WTA Tour final since Nicole Vaidisova did so in 2004 – the same year Gauff was born – and is now set to break into the top 100 for the first time when the new rankings are released on Monday.
The American teenager actually lost in qualifying to world no. 130 Tamara Korpatsch, but got into the draw anyway as a lucky loser and has certainly made the most of that opportunity, scoring her first win over a top-10 opponent when she beat world no. 8 Kiki Bertens in the quarterfinals and backing up that victory by ousting experienced Andrea Petkovic in the semifinals.
Gauff was broken in her first service game to trail 0-2, but set up a point to break back with a brilliant running forehand pass down the line and converted immediately. She never really looked like losing, although Petkovic kept it close; the teenager kept producing just slightly better tennis than her opponent on the biggest points, breaking Petkovic at 4-4 in the first set and serving it out. Gauff saved break points to avoid going down an early break in the second set and broke herself to lead 3-2 before coming back from 15-40 to serve out the 6-4, 6-4 win, using the drop shot to great effect in the final game.
It’s the second time that Gauff, who started the year ranked world no. 684, has won four WTA Tour-level matches in a row, after her memorable Wimbledon run which saw her come through qualifying and oust Venus Williams, Magdalena Rybarikova and Polona Hercog to reach the last 16.
Oddly, it feels a bit less surprising to see Gauff in the final than it does to see Jelena Ostapenko there, so poor has been this season for the 2017 French Open champion and former world no. 5.
Currently ranked world no. 72, Ostapenko is trying to rescue something from a season that’s seen her plummet down the rankings and lose more matches than she’s won, a 20-27 record. The Latvian has lost her opening match at 14 tournaments this season, including three of the year’s four majors. It’s not that she hasn’t had occasional good wins – she beat Johanna Konta in Birmingham, Sloane Stephens in Eastbourne, world no. 2 Karolina Pliskova in Beijing just last week. She just hasn’t been able to string wins together. She has only won back-to-back matches at five events in 2019, and until this week, hadn’t been able to win three matches in a row.
Teaming up with 2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli this week, Ostapenko has won four matches at the indoor event in Austria. One victory, over Alize Cornet, did come via retirement, but she has still faced some decent players, beating Tamara Korpatsch and Budapest champion Elena Rybakina before taking on last year’s Linz runner-up Ekaterina Alexandrova.
Alexandrova proved a handful and a half. Ostapenko played a poor first set and had to claw her way back into the match, saving a match point in the second set to pull the match to a decider – then had to fight tooth and nail throughout that decider, having to save two match points at 4-5 on serve before finally breaking Alexandrova and managing to close out the match 1-6, 7-6(5), 7-5.
This is Ostapenko’s first final in a year and a half, since finishing runner-up to Sloane Stephens in Miami in March 2018: She has a 2-4 record in WTA Tour-level finals.
The Latvian’s run in Linz has certainly been an unexpectedly positive note at the end or her season, but I’m not sure she’s going to be able to win her first title for over two years. Gauff is simply so good, and I don’t think Ostapenko’s hammered power is going to bother her, while the Latvian’s serve is always a real problem area for her, manifesting in a rash of double faults or simply making her vulnerable to an aggressive returner. Gauff showcased so much variety against Petkovic in ways that are also going to work well against the forecourt-allergic Ostapenko, and we know that the American teenager has, so far, not at all been prone to nerves on the big occasion, to say the least. She can make Ostapenko move, and once you do that, half the battle is over. Expect Gauff to crown her remarkable season with her first WTA title in Linz.
Ostapenko vs Gauff Upper Austria Ladies Linz tennis is live from Linz on Sunday at 2pm local/1pm BST
Ostapenko vs Gauff tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – 15-year-old Coco Gauff goes for first WTA title in Linz
Will Coco Gauff crown her breakthrough season with a first WTA Tour title as she faces Jelena Ostapenko in a…
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