Tennis: Gauff rallies to beat Svitolina and retain Auckland title

AP , Sunday 7 Jan 2024

Top-seeded Coco Gauff has retained her title at the WTA Auckland Classic, beating second-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3 in Sunday’s final.

Gauff
Gauff (AP)

For the first time all week, Gauff had a fight on her hands. She swept into the final without dropping a set; in fact, dropping only 15 games on her way through the semifinals.

That followed her flawless tournament last year when she didn’t drop a set at all and capped off a perfect week with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Rebeka Masarova in the final.

Third-ranked Gauff had needed only four hours of court time to reach the final whereas Ukraine’s Svitolina took twice that much, beating Wang Xiyua of China 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 in a match which lasted four-and-a-half hours with rain breaks.

Sunday’s match against Svitolina was by far the toughest Gauff has faced in this, the first week of her 2024 season. She had to come from a set down for the first time and it took 2 hours, 23 minutes to complete her victory. Previously, Gauff’s longest match at the tournament had been 1 hour, 22 minutes.

It was a struggle throughout. Gauff’s serve has been the cornerstone of her game all week. She served 10 aces alone in her 6-3, 6-1 win over fellow American Emma Navarro in the semifinals and she won 80 percent of points all week when her first serve was in play.

Against Svitolina, Gauff managed only three aces and had seven double faults. She put only 65 percent of first serves in play and had 43 unforced errors.

Gauff looked uncomfortable against the hard-hitting Svitolina who was tenacious and ran down shots that Gauff previously would have counted as winners.

But she persevered and had a winning edge in the third set in which she broke Svitolina only once, in the eighth game.

She served for the match and championship in the next game and had to save a break point before winning on her first match point. She became the first player since Julia Goerges in 2018 and 2019 to win back to back Auckland titles and the first American to do so since Patty Fendick in 1988 and 1989.

“This is the first time ever having to defend a title so I’m really happy I was able to do it today,” Gauff said.

“I’d like to congratulate Elina for an incredible week. What you do, being a mum and coming back so fast and at such a high level is pretty inspiring. Hopefully — not any time soon — I’ll be able to do it like you’ve done it.”

Gauff broke Svitolina in the fourth game of the first set but Svitolina broke back immediately. Svitolina was broken again in the eighth game and, again, broke back straight in a service game in which Gauff had two double faults. The set went to a tiebreak, won comfortably by Svitolina at 7-4.

Gauff started the second set by breaking Svitolina and broke her again in the seventh game. Svitolina broke back in the eighth game but Gauff broke again. She was 15-40 down serving for the set but recovered to level the match.

The third set was a tight one with some extraordinary rallies in which both players mixed power and touch. Gauff took the vital service break in the eighth game and again faced a break point before serving out the set and match.

“It’s been a really great experience to play for the first time here,” Svitolina said. “I want to congratulate Coco and her team for the great start to the year and good luck at the Australian Open.

“I’ve been really enjoying myself here, playing great matches. It was a tough loss today but I hope I can come back next year to play more tennis here.”

Svitolina was supported from court-side throughout the week by husband Gael Monfils who will play the men’s Auckland Classic which starts Monday.

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