US Open champion Gauff starts 2024 with win over Liu in Auckland
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — U.S. Open champion Coco Gauff started her 2024 season and her defense of the Auckland Tennis Classic title Tuesday with a rusty-at-times 6-4, 6-2 win over American compatriot Claire Liu.
Gauff used her powerful forehand well but took time to find her range, over-hitting at times in the first set.
She raced to an early 4-0 lead then dropped serve, served for the first set at 5-2 and lost serve again to love before composing herself to overcome a tenacious performance by Liu.
Gauff defeated Aryna Sabalenka in the U.S. Open final 2–6, 6–3, 6–2 for her first major title last year.
On Tuesday, Gauff mostly stuck to the baseline while Liu came more often and effectively to the net. But as Gauff settled in and found her service rhythm, she took the second set more convincingly in 35 minutes, the match in 82 minutes.
“Happy to start off the season with a win,” Gauff said. “I needed to be tested.
“I feel like I played well today for the first match in a while and I’m happy with my level. Obviously there are things I can improve but I did what I needed to do to win.”
Emma Raducanu, the 2021 U.S. Open champion, was given a thorough workout in her first match since April before beating Romanian qualifier Elena-Gabriela Ruse 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.
Raducanu had begun to feel the effects of wrist and ankle injuries when she played in Auckland last year. In April she bowed to the inevitable and broke from the tour for surgery and rehabilitation.
She couldn't have asked for a more searching test of her fitness than she received from Ruse who kept her on court for 2 hours, 25 minutes.
“It's difficult after having such a long hiatus,” Raducanu said. "But I'm grateful to be healthy. I'm grateful to be able to move my body and not (be) like bed-ridden or in a wheelchair.
“It's just amazing to be out here and playing. I'm just really happy to be back on the tour.”
Raducanu took the first set comfortably with a single break of serve. But from then on Ruse made her fight for every point.
Ruse swung hard, forcing Raducanu on the defensive and had three service breaks to two in taking the second set.
Raducanu served for the match at 5-2 and 5-4 in the deciding set but Ruse broke back on both occasions. The Briton served again for the match at 6-5 and, with the help of a timely ace, prevailed on her fourth match-point.
Former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki started the New Year with a loss, going down 6-4, 6-3 to second-seeded Elina Svitolina. In a hard-hitting match, there were five service breaks in the first set: Svitolina gained a vital third break in the 10th game.
She then broke Wozniacki to lead 3-1 in the second set and again in the eighth game before serving out the set and match.
Wozniacki made a strong comeback in 2023 after being away from tennis for more than three years. She looked impressively fit at the start of the new season and her double-handed backhand and running forehand were still weapons.
AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis