Coco Gauff’s memorable Wimbledon joy ride carried over to a Grand Slam tournament much closer to home on Tuesday.
In her United States Open debut, Gauff, the 15-year-old American phenom from Delray Beach, Fla., fought back after a shaky start to defeat Anastasia Potapova of Russia in the first round, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Gauff is the first 15-year-old to win a singles match at the U.S. Open since the American CiCi Bellis upset Dominika Cibulkova in the first round in 2014.
But Gauff, unlike Bellis at that stage, is no tennis unknown, and she appeared to have command of the match with a 4-1 lead in the third set, but Potapova rallied to even the score at 4-4 before Gauff won the final two games.
“I was trying to calm myself down, and really it was the crowd that really helped me,” Gauff said.
Last month on the slippery grass of the All England Club, Gauff was precociously poised and precise against veteran elders such as Venus Williams, and reached the fourth round.
On Tuesday, on the surer footing provided by the blue hardcourts of the United States Open, Gauff was frequently off balance and off target in the early going against a player from her peer group. Potapova is 18.
It was the first main-draw U.S. Open singles match for both young women, but Potapova looked much more comfortable at the onset.
Like Gauff, she was once the world’s top-ranked junior. Like Gauff, she won a junior Grand Slam singles title — Wimbledon in 2016 — and has had access to elite training and expertise from an early age.
Like Gauff, she has beaten a former Grand Slam champion in a Grand Slam tournament: Angelique Kerber, in straight sets, in the first round of this year’s French Open.
But unlike Gauff, she is no longer subject to the WTA Tour’s playing restrictions. Since turning 18 in March, she has been eligible to play a full schedule, while Gauff, who won’t turn 18 until March 2022, still has to ration her tournament appearances.
Still ranked outside the top 100, Gauff needs to qualify or receive wild cards to participate in most professional events, and she has already exhausted her quota of wild cards for this season.
But the Grand Slam tournaments continue to play by some of their own rules, and the U.S. Open organizers, eager to showcase a potentially generational talent, found a spot in the main draw for Gauff. Then they found another for her — on the tournament’s second biggest show court for her opening round.
Louis Armstrong Stadium was still half empty when her match began, but many of those in the seats were already on a first-name basis with Gauff.
“Let’s go, Coco!”
“Come on, Coco!”
The cheers came early, and the cheers came late, and several supporters in her packed player box were in tune with the moment, wearing white “Call me Coco” T-shirts.
The buzz has spread quickly since Gauff’s Wimbledon run, and it could get very loud again in a hurry here.
Gauff’s next chance to bring the U.S. Open crowd to its feet: Thursday’s second-round match against the veteran qualifier Timea Babos.