American teen Coco Gauff opened the U.S. Open women’s draw on Arthur Ashe in style, rolling to an easy 6-2, 6-3 first-round rout of France’s Leolia Jeanjean.
Coming in seeded 12th — and having reached the French Open final in May — the 18-year-old is now facing even higher expectations, not of being a phenom for the future but a potential Grand Slam champion of the present. And Gauff is self-aware enough to not only admit it, but accept it.
“Yeah, there’s definitely more expectations on me,” said Gauff, who advances to face Romania’s Elena Gabriela Ruse. “People expect you to get over that final hurdle, and that’s something I expect of myself too because I know I feel it in me that I can repeat it and do it again. Now, I know what that nervousness feels like. I didn’t expect myself to be so nervous before the final. Now that I know what to expect, I expect myself to at least do better.
“And regarding the pressure, I learned you just have to accept it, you can’t ignore it. It’s going to be there. You feel it. Everybody else feels it for you. So instead of trying to say ‘I’m not nervous, I’m not this,’ I’m saying, ‘I am nervous, I do feel pressure, I do feel this.’ Now, once you acknowledge a problem, you can solve it.”
Gauff — who earned her first career win on Ashe — learned that valuable lesson in the hours and days after her loss to Simona Halep in Madrid. She blew a second-set lead and “mentally broke down,” then couldn’t finish her next practice.
“That night, I told myself you can either feel bad about yourself and feel like the world is against you, or you can empower yourself and solve a way to fight through these emotions,” Gauff said. “I chose to fight through these emotions.
“This is the first time I’m acknowledging — not that it’s a problem, because everybody experiences this, I’m sure if you ask the best players, even Rafa [Nadal]he said many times he feels nervous. I expected myself not to feel that way. But now, I’m acknowledging it. Now, I can work on a way to working through those emotions.”
But Monday, there was nothing to even trigger her nerves with the way she served. Gauff hit eight aces, won 91 percent of her first-serve points and never faced a single break point.
The 34 winners to her French foe’s nine were just icing.
Andy Murray, the 2012 Open champion, made short work of 24th-seeded Francisco Cerundolo in a 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 first-round victory.
The 35-year-old Murray came in having won just one match on the North American hard courts, plagued by persistent cramping. But he had no such issues Monday despite grinding out several long rallies.