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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, May 13, 2021

 
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Coco Gauff won nine of the last 12 games upsetting Madrid champion Aryna Sabalenka 7-5, 6-3 to roar into the Rome quarterfinals vs. No. 1 Ash Barty.

Photo credit: Internazionali BNL d'Italia Facebook

Fans returned to the Foro Italico today.

Coco Gauff greeted them with a commanding, crowd-pleasing performance.

More: Serena Williams, Venus Williams Will Play Parma

Playing dynamic all-court tennis, Gauff won nine of the last 12 games upsetting Madrid champion Aryna Sabalenka 7-5, 6-3 to roar into the Rome quarterfinals.

Riding into Rome fresh off her first career clay-court championship in Madrid where she defeated world No. 1 Ash Barty in the final to rise to a career-high rank of No. 4, a streaking Sabalenka couldn't stay in step with Gauff down the stretch.



The 17-year-old Gauff scored her third career Top 10 victory—and first Top 10 triumph since she toppled Naomi Osaka at the 2020 Australian Open.

The 35th-ranked Gauff advanced to a blockbuster quarterfinal clash vs. the top-seeded Barty, who leads the WTA Tour in wins with a 27-4 record. Stuttgart champion Barty banged nine aces and dropped just eight points on first serve dispatching Charleston champion Veronika Kudermetova 6-3, 6-3.

"It will be great to see, like, where my level is," Gauff said. "I mean, she's the No. 1 player in the world. I have no pressure on me... I'm just going to go out there and see what I can do and try my best."

A confident Gauff rode a savvy serving performance against one of the game's most dangerous returners to take charge. Gauff served 61 percent, permitted just eight points on her second serve and saved four of five break points. 

Growing stronger as the match progressed, Gauff won 16 of 20 points played on her serve in the second set improving to 2-2 lifetime vs. Top 5 players.

A tough self-grader, Gauff rightly rated this match as a near perfect performance.

"Yeah, definitely I guess a 10 out of 10. I think I played pretty well the whole match," Gauff said. "She's not an easy opponent. I mean, sometimes you're always on defense, so sometimes you just have to scramble a little bit.

"I think today I played smart and well."

Combine Sabalenka's pure power and baseline aggression with Gauff's unrelenting court coverage and all-court skills and you have the ingredients for a contrasting, combustible rivalry that can produce riveting points. Gauff, who has won two of thee meetings vs. Sabalenka, said she's a fan of this rivalry because both bring the intensity creating some electric exchanges. 


"She brings the intensity on the court from the first point," Gauff said of Sabalenka. "I have to make sure that I manage that and bring even more intensity. I think you feel it the whole match. I don't know really what brings out my best tennis. I think it's just we're both really good competitors. She's a nice girl. When you play her on court, she's tough as anything. Off the court she's super nice.

"I think it's one of those matches that for me as a fan, I mean, if I were to be able to watch myself play, that would be a match that I would want to watch because you know we're going to bring everything we have from the beginning to the end."

The 35-ranked American's reward for stopping the fourth-ranked Belarusian is a quarterfinal clash vs. world No. 1 Barty.  Tomorrow's quarterfinal will be a different match with Barty likely to use her low slice backhand to attack Gauff's forehand, which she hits with a pretty extreme western grip, which can make lifting low balls a challenge at times.

Coming off one of the most complete matches of her career against an opponent who is second on tour in 2021 wins, Gauff is excited for her shot at Barty.

"She's a very smart player," Gauff said. "I don't really expect.. I mean, no mistakes are stupid, but no erratic errors, if that makes sense, from her. She's going to play tricky with the slice. She likes the clay."

Tennis Express

It was a good day for American women.

A day after she bounced the second-ranked Osaka out of the draw, Jessica Pegula continued her superb season. Pegula went seven-for-seven on break point chances sweeping Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-2, 6-4 in 71 minutes.

The victory vaults Pegula into her fourth quarterfinal of the season where she will face Petra Martic.

The 25th-ranked Croatian defeated 2020 Roland Garros semifinalist Nadia Podoroska 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 a day after the Argentinean upset 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams.


 

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