“I wish I would play like this when I was 16 years old,” Sevastova said admiringly of Gauff. “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. That’s so important I think in tennis.”
Gauff, who reached the fourth round of Wimbledon in her first Grand Slam tournament in 2019, started this season auspiciously, upsetting Osaka in the fourth round of the Australian Open in January before losing in the quarterfinals in three sets to American compatriot Sofia Kenin, the eventual champion.
She spent the forced break at home in Delray Beach, Fla., practicing with her father Corey and her co-coach Jean-Christophe Faurel. She then played a strong comeback tournament at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., defeating two seeded players — Aryna Sabalenka and Ons Jabeur — in taut three-set tussles before losing in the semifinals to Jennifer Brady, another eventual champion.
But Gauff was unable to produce consistent tennis in the two-tournament bubble in New York, losing 6-1, 6-3 in the first round of the Western & Southern Open to Maria Sakkari, the No. 13 seed, and then losing to Sevastova in their first meeting. Though it is tempting to attribute Monday’s defeat to Sevastova’s unusual style, Gauff did manage to prevail in Lexington against Jabeur, a player with a similarly varied game and flair for the exotic shot.
It seems premature to speculate about a sophomore slump for Gauff. But Gauff’s serve and forehand have been less than dependable in recent weeks with double faults and errors piling up. Gauff has struggled to find consistency with her service toss and repeatedly caught her toss on Monday, particularly in the first two sets.
“It’s surprising that Coco’s serve was not retooled more during pause of play,” said Pam Shriver, a former U.S. Open singles finalist who is now an ESPN analyst, in a post on Twitter. “Toss too high. Toss too erratic. Pause on take-back too long. Not enough weight transfer.”
Sevastova often played to Gauff’s forehand on important points and did so again during the final game, when Gauff made four unforced forehand errors, including the final stroke of the match, which landed in the net on Sevastova’s fourth match point.