“I used to think,” she explained, “every match was life or death.”
Gauff is not getting much opportunity for that sort of learning lately — she's won 13 of her past 14 contests, including claiming the two biggest titles of her still-nascent career — and yet her game has been showing a lot of growth lately.
“Obviously maturity plays a part into it. The more matches you have, the more experience you have,” said Gauff, who is seeded sixth at Flushing Meadows and on course for a potential quarterfinal showdown against defending champion Iga Swiatek, also into the third round after winning in straight sets Wednesday.
“Mirra, she’s going to be a great player,” continued Gauff, whose breakthrough came at age 15 when she qualified at Wimbledon and got to the fourth round. “With the more matches she has, the more experience she has.”
And then Gauff closed with quite a compliment: “I really see myself in her.”
The two teenagers faced each other about three months ago at the French Open in what was a much tighter affair, going three sets before Gauff — the runner-up to Swiatek at Roland Garros in 2022 — pulled out the win.
At the outset on Wednesday, it appeared they might be headed for another competitive outing, by the looks of the opening game: Andreeva broke right away, smacking a huge backhand down the line to draw a Gauff forehand into the net on a 19-stroke exchange, then getting a 120 mph serve in play, leading to a netted backhand.
“I didn't feel like she changed” since they last met, Andreeva would say afterward.
Oh, but Gauff has. She is willing to be more aggressive early in points — and went to the net 18 times, taking 15 of those points. She has better footwork on her forehand and is not afraid to go for that shot.
Those are two improvements that have come since a first-round loss at Wimbledon in July, tweaks that arrived while working with new coaches Pere Riba and Brad Gilbert, who could be heard urging Gauff to make things more physical from his front-row seat in a player guest box.
The surface switched, too — from the slower clay of Paris to the swifter hard courts of Flushing Meadows — and Andreeva figured that had more to do with the rather different result this time.
She also lamented: “This match I did more mistakes than I usually do. ... I could have played better.”
Later Wednesday, Gauff and Jessica Pegula went out to play their first-round doubles match and won — although not exactly when Gauff thought they did. Ahead 4-1 in the second set, Gauff smacked a return winner for a 5-1 lead, and she went to hug Pegula, thinking the match was over. Pegula informed her of the mistake; Gauff doubled over in laughter. One game later, it was, indeed, finished.
After that one poor game to begin things against Andreeva, Gauff quickly snapped to it, looking far more formidable than she did during a difficult three-setter against Laura Siegemund that lasted 2 hours, 51 minutes in the first round Monday night. This one lasted less than half as long, time-wise.
Gauff's serve was clicking; she never got broken again. Her forehand was up to the task, even as Andreeva repeatedly went after that side, something Gauff has referred to as the old “playbook” against her. On lengthy groundstroke back-and-forths, mostly from the baseline, Gauff was superior.
She won 14 of 20 points that lasted nine strokes or longer, up to as many as 30 shots. Overall, Gauff compiled a 24-7 edge in winners.
“Playing a younger person just reminded me how far I have come,” said Gauff, who plays No. 32 Elise Mertens next, “and I should be proud of myself.”
AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis