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New-look serve digs Gauff out of trouble

  • Dan Imhoff

Coco Gauff already tops the leaderboard with the two fastest women’s serves of AO 2024, a pair of rockets nudging the 200km/h mark.

While the news came as no real surprise to the US Open champion after a second-round Australian Open victory over Caroline Dolehide on Wednesday, her impressive numbers did not become so apparent until she stepped up to the big time. 

DRAW: Australian Open 2024 women’s singles

The fourth seed, who survived an early scare against 42nd-ranked Dolehide 7-6(2) 6-2, said in her debut year on tour as a 15-year-old she quickly realised she was serving faster than many of her opponents.

“I wasn't expecting that. When you're in juniors they don't have the serve clock, but definitely I would say the first year on tour I was getting high 110s (180km/h-plus) or low 120s (200km/h) even at that age, and then sometimes on the changeovers they show like the serve speed leaders. I would always be on the list,” Gauff said.

“I think when I got on tour is when I really realised how fast I can get it. Now I don't need to get it much faster. I mean, I would love to get maybe 130 (mph) just to try to get that, but, you know, 128, 130, I don't think it would make much of a difference. As long as I can keep hitting my spots.”

While Gauff was limited to just three aces against the 25-year-old Dolehide, she claimed 79 per cent of her first-serve points, a handy foundation for her victory in an hour and 44 minutes.

It extended her unbeaten start to the new season to seven wins after she added a second AO 2024 victory to her successful Auckland title defence.

The teenager has now won 31 of her past 35 matches after she went on a tear on North American hard courts last year, a stretch that included titles in Washington DC, Cincinnati and her maiden major at the US Open.

She conceded there was much room for improvement ahead of a third-round clash against another American not lacking in power, Alycia Parks.

“I feel like I was too much on the back foot in the first set. So, I think I can play more aggressive and be more sure of my shots,” Gauff said ahead of a first meeting with the 23-year-old. 

“I think I put too many balls in the service box in the first set, and that's why she was able to dictate the points. Yeah, I definitely can play more aggressive.

“Serving, I think I got broken, what, twice, yeah, twice the first set, so when I'm in the lead, I would like to continue to be aggressive serving, which is what got me the lead. So, yeah, serving and just being more aggressive. That's just a mindset thing. I know I have the game to do it. I just have to believe in it.”

Gauff has a chance to become the first woman since Naomi Osaka in 2019 to triumph at Flushing Meadows and Melbourne Park back to back. Four years ago, the American stunned reigning champion Osaka in the third round in a feature match at Rod Laver Arena.

While keen to avoid suffering the same fate now as a heavily favoured major champion, Gauff accepts the pressure will be firmly on her shoulders this time round against the 31st-ranked Parks.

There was reprieve at least to be found away from Melbourne Park.

“I like the chill vibes here. I feel less stress here,” Gauff said. “Just walking around in Melbourne, I don't really get recognised that much, which is nice. Just walking to dinner, you know, maybe one or two people notice, and yeah, it's something that I appreciate a lot.”