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Linz | Gauff stuns Bertens for her first WTA semi-final

American teenager Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff claimed the first Top 10 win of her fledgling career over top seed Kiki Bertens as she moved into her maiden WTA semi-final at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz on Friday.

Sometimes I'm motivated and then I have moments when I don't want to do it [homework] at all, Cori Gauff

The 15-year-old from Delray Beach, Florida, who has attended school online since 3rd Grade, is starting to write records as well as essays after upsetting the Dutchwoman, 7-6(1) 6-4.

In so doing Gauff became the youngest woman to reach a WTA semi-final since Nicole Vaidisova won the Tashkent title in 2004, and will take on Andrea Petkovic on Saturday for a spot in the final.

The 75th-ranked Petkovic booked her first semi in a year, defeating Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia, 6-4 6-1.

Gauff’s strategy sessions for her first semi were put on hold for a few hours due to high-school homework that needed to be tackled after her late-afternoon win, with lessons beckoning in her hotel room.

“I just got off the court, so I’ve not thought about the semi-final,” she said. “I’m thinking of the homework I have to do tonight. I don’t know what it is yet.

“I’m studying the typical stuff: math, English, history… I don’t know what I have to do – but I know it’s something.”

Gauff is not bothered by juggling her tennis with school commitments: “Sometimes I’m motivated and then I have moments when I don’t want to do it [homework] at all,” she admitted.

The 15-year-old has experienced a huge change of fortune during the week, going from losing in the final round of qualifying to entering the main draw as a lucky loser and attaining the first Top 10 victory of her career with her 97-minute victory over top-seeded Bertens

The teenager earned her place in the field as a lucky loser from qualifying when Greek Maria Sakkari withdrew injured at the start of the week.

The Floridian, still under WTA age eligibility restrictions, is playing her fifth Tour-level main draw of 2019 after reaching the Wimbledon fourth round and making the third round at the US Open.

The Linz week has been a breakthrough for the World No 110, who will crack the Top 100 on Monday, when she travels to Luxembourg for the last event of her season, and she is already assured of a spot in the Australian Open field in January with her rise in the rankings.

Gauff maintained control throughout over the 8th-ranked Bertens.

“I’m glad I was able to come out on top. I’ve really gotten a lot of support from the crowd,” she told a sellout audience in this upper Austrian regional capital.

“There have been a lot of firsts this week. I’m really happy and proud of how I’m playing.

“It was definitely crazy,” Gauff later told the press, after her massive victory. “Today was my first Top 10 win, so I’m super proud of myself for that.

“It was a good match, Kiki played great, and obviously I couldn’t ask for anything better so far in this tournament.”

“I didn’t have any nerves until the match points came along. Kiki was playing well and there was just a difference of one or two points.”

Very little separated the two players, with a single break of serve in the encounter determining the victor.

Gauff staved off both of the break points she faced in the match, won three-quarters of her first-service points, and claimed half of the points off of Bertens’s second serve.

She was never threatened by her more experienced opponent, who won titles this season at St Petersburg and Madrid, and reached the Beijing semi-finals last week before returning to Europe.

Gauff stepped up to win the opener in a tie-break and broke for 2-1 in the second.

The match ended on Gauff’s second match point as Bertens sent a return wide.

“I guess [Linz is] my little lucky place,” Gauff added. “I didn’t know what to expect coming here, and I’m glad I was able to take the best of the opportunity.

“I got in as a lucky loser and I’m in the semis, so I hope I can keep this going.”

Gauff exhibited exceptional prowess in the forecourt as the match commenced, punching victorious volleys and delivering divine drop-shots, but the thunderous power game of Bertens kept her on level footing as she blasted her way through any moments of peril in the early going.

Bertens had to grit her way through a tough service game to hold for 4-4, as she double faulted to give Gauff the first break point of the match.

A strong serve by the Dutchwoman erased that chance, and she continued to find robust deliveries which pulled her through the game, as the combatants continued to stay deadlocked throughout the opening frame.

Despite an evenly-matched run to 6-6 with zero breaks of serve, Gauff quickly turned the pivotal first-set tiebreak fully in her favour.

After opening the breaker by winning a scintillating rally with a drop volley winner, the American stayed steely as a run of unforced errors came from the racquet of Bertens.

The Dutchwoman hit her third double fault of the set to cede a 5-1 lead to Gauff at the changeover, and after another wide forehand by Bertens, the teenager reached 6-1 and held 5 set points.

Gauff only needed one, ending the set with a forehand winner and putting her on the precipice of a signature upset.

In the second set, Bertens had an early opportunity to pull ahead, firing a forehand winner to queue up a break point for a 2-0 lead.

Gauff, however, had other ideas, as she executed a drop volley to force an error and pull herself out of danger, eventually moving to a hold for 1-1.

Gauff was immediately rewarded in the next game as Bertens misfired on forehands, as the American suddenly attained the first, and what would prove to be the only, service break of the match.

Bertens never faltered on serve after that, but the Dutchwoman got no further looks on Gauff’s delivery, and the teenager would go on to close out the victory on her second match point.

Gauff now takes on former Top 10 player Andrea Petkovic of Germany for a spot in her first-ever WTA Tour singles final.

Petkovic dispatched Slovakia’s Viktoria Kuzmova, 6-4 6-1, to book her place in her first semi-final of the 2019 season.
The other semi-final will see 8th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova take on Jelana Ostapenko from Latvia.

Russian Alexandrova beat Kristina Mladenovic from France, 6-2 6-4, while former French Open champion Ostapenko scored a 7-5 6-1 win over Elena Rybakina from Kazakstan.



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