Coco Gauff cruises past Madison Keys into round four of the US Open

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NEW YORK – Of all the American power hitters set to follow Serena Williams, Madison Keys is perhaps the strongest of the bunch. A tennis ball from her racquet might crack rocks.

Coco Gauff faced the might of Keys with cool confidence on Friday, making a clash between two Grand Slam finalists look one-sided as she advanced to the fourth round of the US Open for the first time in her career. She did it in a 6-2, 6-3 win that lasted a factual 72 minutes.

The US Open was the only major where 18-year-old Gauff hadn’t reached at least the fourth round. But instead of feeling like a milestone, her victory felt more like routine.

Gauff went into the match after a three-set loss to Keys in January with one main focus: be less hesitant about your shots to withstand Keys’ aggression.

A strategy that was easier to follow than Gauff expected. Her overall confidence in her tennis is higher after a coaching change than at the start of the year and what she said is a clearer sense of identity on the court.

β€œIn January I relied too much on my speed. Because against lower-ranked players, I could get away with just getting the ball back. Playing higher players, power hitters, I think, okay, that doesn’t work anymore,” Gauff said. “… It really changed my attitude towards how I use my athletics. I don’t rely on that anymore. Now I’m trying to use it as a weapon.”

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Gauff played freely on Friday, aiming for big groundstrokes but staying in her game.

A solid seven winners to 14 unforced errors was enough against an opponent with a penchant for getting herself into trouble. The difference was that Keys wasn’t as clean – she had 13 winners to 22 unforced errors and couldn’t find a way to break Gauff’s impenetrable calm.

Gauff also limited himself to three double faults after eight serves in their second round match.

On Sunday she will face China’s Shuai Zhang.

key who lost to Sloane Stephens in the 2017 championship game hereSince then, she has not reached a Grand Slam final (although she has reached a semifinal three times, including at this year’s Australian Open). She hasn’t made it past the fourth round in New York since 2019.

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Gauff reached her first major final this year at Roland Garros, where she fell against world No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

The most impressive thing about this match for Gauff was that she now knows what it feels like to play for a Grand Slam trophy.

β€œI didn’t expect to be so nervous before the final. Now that I know what to expect, I expect myself to at least do better, maybe not win next time, but do better,” Gauff said. “… Instead of trying to say, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m not that,’ I say, ‘I’m nervous, I feel pressure, I feel that.’ Once you identify a problem, you can solve it.”

Gauff showed it on Friday – she learns quickly.

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