The victory of Coco Gauff establishes a confrontation with Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open; Serena Williams advances

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MELBOURNE, Australia – Coco Gauff was doing badly in the second round of the Australian Open.

The double fouls were still arriving on Wednesday, nine in total. The deficits too. First, he dropped the first set against Sorana Cirstea, number 74 of the ranking. Then, after forcing a third party, Gauff stayed behind for a break, yielding 14 of 16 points with a series of errors. Later, after drawing 3, Gauff was only two points behind a loss.

None of that mattered. As he continues to show, again and again, Gauff is not a typical 15-year-old girl. Nor is he a typical tennis player. And passing Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in just over two hours, he has now organized another Grand Slam showdown against Naomi Osaka.

Less than five months after his memorable meeting at the US Open: Osaka won that one in straight sets, then comforted a Gauff crying on the court and encouraged her to address the spectators: the two will meet again. Like that time, Osaka is the reigning champion of the majors and Gauff is making his debut in the tournament.

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“I know what to expect,” said Gauff, who eliminated seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams in the first round on Monday. “I’m excited for a good game.”

Also on Wednesday, Serena Williams went one step closer in her commitment to a 24th record title with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Tamara Zidansek to reach the third round.

Williams won the last of his seven Australian Open titles in 2017, but has not added an important championship since then. He took time off the tour to have his daughter, Olympia, and has lost four Grand Slam finals in the last two seasons. His title in Auckland, New Zealand, was the first tour level in almost three years.

Williams, 38, dominated in the first set, but slowed slightly in the second, when the roof was closed due to rain, and Zidansek, in 70th place, saved the first seven break point opportunities he faced.

“I knew it had to intensify, otherwise it was going to be a very long night for me,” Williams said.

Gauff was not at his best on a windy day against Cirstea, but he managed to get out of trouble repeatedly. Gauff showed a lot of guts, yes, and also enthusiasm, pumping himself by shaking a fist and shouting: “Let’s go!” after most of his successful points on the stretch.

At the end of the third set, the chair judge told Gauff that a service he hit did not count because Cirstea had indicated that he was not ready to receive the ball. Gauff said he never looks at an opponent before serving and asked for the head next time.

When the point was really played, Gauff won it and, from above the net, looked in the direction of Cirstea and shouted. There was much more of that kind of celebration the rest of the way, and Gauff was supported by a crowd from Melbourne Arena who shouted, “Come on, Coco! Come on!”

His father, Corey, was also animated in the stands, except when he closed his eyes at critical moments.

There were several of those for his precocious daughter, who was ranked 313 last year when she became the youngest player in history to qualify for Wimbledon, then ended up beating Williams on the way to the fourth round.

It is a measure of his soon stardom that Gauff was playing in the third largest stadium in Melbourne Park on Wednesday, despite the fact that this was a clash between a pair of players ranked outside the top 60 and with a quarter-final of Grand Slam in his career among them. , more than a decade ago (Cirstea went so far in the 2009 French Open).

In fact, each Grand Slam match in singles (“each” is a relative term, of course, because this was number 9) of Gauff’s nascent career, which occupies 67th place, has appeared on a field of shows.

This was the first game of the main draw in a major for Gauff in which he had a better classification than his opponent.

At first it didn’t seem that way, since Gauff dropped the first set. After forcing things to a third, he lost 3-0. After putting 3-3, Gauff needed to go through one more intestinal check: twice, he was two points away from the game.

But the American teenager broke up in the penultimate game, and then held to win.

How did Gauff go through this test?

“Only my will to win,” he said. “My parents always told me that I could come back, regardless of the score.”

Other winners included No. 1 of the women Ash Barty and the two-time main champion Petra Kvitova, the runner-up in Osaka in Australia a year ago.

Osaka resolved some frustrations on Wednesday by grabbing his racket with both hands and throwing it on the ground, throwing a tennis ball and kicking the racket along the court, to boot.

Then he dropped into his side seat and covered his head with a towel. Soon, she was recovering and beating Saisai Zheng 6-2, 6-4.

“I mean, my racket just flew magically from my hand. I couldn’t control it,” Osaka said with a mischievous smile. “I think that’s how I dealt with my frustration. It was a bit childish. I just want to play a game without throwing my racket or kicking it. That’s all I want.”

Perhaps because his press conference took place while Gauff and Cirstea were still playing, Osaka diverted a question in search of some kind of anticipation to the third round, simply saying that he would go to see the end of that game.

In another notable result at the beginning of Day 3, former Australian Open champion No. 1 and 2018, Caroline Wozniacki, advanced in a tournament that announced that it will be the last of her career, erasing large deficits in each set for a 7- 5, 7- 5 victory against Dayana Yastremska.

Wozniacki, 29, lost 5-1 in the first set, then 3-0 in the second and needed a total of six match points to close things. Afterward, she cried when “Sweet Caroline” rang through the speakers at Margaret Court Arena.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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