By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
As the main attraction during the Citi Open’s qualifying weekend, rising star Coco Gauff did not disappoint. With a palpable buzz filling the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center throughout the qualifying sessions, Gauff secured a berth in the main draw with a pair of straight-sets wins.
Gauff beat Hiroka Kuwata of Japan 6-1, 6-2 in just over an hour on Stadium Court Sunday in the final round of qualifying. With the win, Gauff advanced to her third main draw on the WTA Tour (Miami, Wimbledon).
“I'm happy that I was able to get into the main draw,” Gauff said after the win. “These two matches, I feel like, will prep me for my first round, especially because I've never been to this tournament before.”
Gauff was again in cruise control throughout her match Sunday firing eight aces in as many service games and winning all but three of her first service points. Gauff also saved all three break points she faced.
She’ll next face Zarina Diyas (World No.84) of Kazakhstan in a first-round match Tuesday. Should Gauff continue to advance, she could face No.5 seed Lesia Tsurenko in the second round and No.1 seed Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals.
Gauff is competing for the first time since she seemingly became an overnight worldwide sensation earlier this month at Wimbledon. Along the way, Gauff became the youngest player to reach the Round of 16 at the All England Club since 1991.
On Sunday Gauff acknowledged that as the expectations and demands may be mounting around her, she feels more at ease than at her two previous main draw appearances.
“I’ve figured out my game a little bit more,” she said. “Definitely a lot more confidence and I feel like I’m putting a lot less pressure on myself and I feel like I’m enjoying it more and not necessarily thinking about losing, but just thinking about taking it point by point.”
Gauff, who was originally scheduled to play an exhibition match and host a Kids Day clinic this weekend, wasn’t guaranteed a spot in the qualifying draw until Friday.
She revealed on Sunday that had she not gotten into the qualifying, she would have made her appearances this weekend before spending a few extra days in D.C. sightseeing with her family. Instead of playing tourist, though, Gauff will play tennis.
And that’s also special for the teenager, who will play her first WTA event with her entire family- brothers and grandparents – all in attendance.
“This is the first tournament that we’re all together. Now they get to watch me play. It’s all been last minute, but I’m just so happy and grateful that I’ve gotten this opportunity to play here and I’m excited that I’m still in the tournament, so that’s good.”