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Match of the Day: Svitolina blankets Gauff’s teen spirit 

Elina Svitolina toughed out a second-round showdown against Coco Gauff to earn a 6-4 6-3 victory in an hour and 17 minutes under a closed roof on Rod Laver Arena on Thursday night.

The build-up

There was abundant interest and a sniff of a potential upset in this first-ever meeting between the fearless 16-year-old American and 26-year-old Ukrainian, a key title contender this fortnight at AO 2021.

MORE: All the scores from Day 4 at AO 2021

“I'm just going to embrace the opportunity and try to play well under the pressure,” Gauff, pursuing a career-third top 10 win, said earlier this week. 

"This is only my second Australian Open, so I mean, I'm just going out there and having fun,” added the teen prodigy, who has spent free time in Melbourne honing her mini-golf game. 

“Obviously you want to do as well or even better than the year before, but I try not to think about it and just take it one match at a time.”

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11 Feb 21

Coco Gauff vs Elina Svitolina Match Highlights (2R) | Australian Open 2021

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The right-hander, who upset Naomi Osaka at AO 2020, used the off-season to improve her second serve after struggling with double faults last season. 

“It was all mental really. The change that I made was just accelerating more … it's gotten better and it's no longer a problem, and it's not costing me matches like it used to.”

Svitolina already had a taste of success in Melbourne, reaching the Gippsland Trophy final last week. Supported by a team that includes boyfriend Gael Monfils, she’s acknowledged a need to achieve consistency during majors. 

“Every match really matters, and there [are] tough opponents who are there to give you hard time,” said Svitolina, who has reached the final four at Wimbledon and the US Open. 

“I've been in semifinals – I wish I could play better [those] times, but it didn't happen. Hopefully I get a chance another time.”

Story of the match

In a match that began roughly an hour after it was scheduled following a marathon day session at Rod Laver Arena, Gauff attacked early, manufacturing a break point in the opening game which Svitolina saved with an ace.

Both competitors displayed their easy range of movement and the variety of their games, combining heavy groundstrokes with deft touch. Winners flowed easily off the wings of both players, who each took care of business on serve. Until the tenth game, when Gauff, serving at 4-5, was unable to survive Svitolina’s onslaught. The teen saved one set point, but donated the second with a backhand into the net.

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Svitolina's pedigree showed in the crucial moments

Fifth-seeded Svitolina began the second set much like the first, saving two break points with clean winners in the opening game. She again saved a break point at 2-2 with a precisely-placed approach volley before continuing to apply pressure on the return. 

While a fired-up Gauff matched her higher-ranked opponent blow for blow for the most part, in the eighth game, unable to withstand Svitolina’s baseline barrage, a forehand from the American sailed long to hand her opponent a crucial break. Serving for the match, the Ukrainian executed to perfection, clinching match point with yet another well-struck approach volley.

“Definitely it was a great match, I think from both of us, it was a really high level and we were serving really good today,” said Svitolina. 

“I had a little chance to break and I took it. I’m very pleased with the performance today.”

Key stats

With a total of 29 net points in play, it was Svitolina who came up tops, winning 71 per cent to Gauff’s 60 per cent. Despite striking 19 winners to the youngster’s 24, she dominated her opponent at pivotal moments, converting 67 per cent – or two of her three break points – to the American’s zero from four.

Still, the American has some stats to be stoked about: 77 per cent of her first serves landed in to her rival’s 63 per cent and – on average, her first serve outpaced Svitolina’s, at 176km/h.

What this means for Gauff

The teen can take comfort in the slim margins from Thursday night’s battle, and adjust her game plan for their future rendezvous. She joins other Americans bundled out on Day 4 including Sofia Kenin, Danielle Collins and Madison Brengle, and will be looking to continue her climb up the rankings this calendar year.

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Gauff couldn't take advantage of her rare chances to break Svitolina

For now, you can catch her in the women’s doubles, where she’s contesting the event with longtime partner and compatriot Caty McNally.

What’s next for Svitolina?

A third-round clash against hard-hitting 26th seed Yulia Putintseva awaits, and Svitolina goes into that match a favourite, thanks in part to her 5-1 head-to-head advantage over the diminutive Kazakh.

“I’m in the third round so I’m looking forward to that – it’s going to be another exciting match,” she said. 

Svitolina is now another step closer to bettering Melbourne quarterfinal appearances in 2018 and 2019.