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Tennis From Australia Day 1 • Gauff Beats Venus Again • Dimitrov Makes A Fashion Statement • And More

By Alix Ramsay

Venus Williams must be sick of the sight of Coco Gauff. Way back, back in another century, Venus was Coco; Venus was the future of the women’s game. And it felt good.

But now, some 24 years and seven grand slam titles later, Venus has been eclipsed. The 15-year-old Gauff has, for the second time in six months, ousted the venerable queen of the centre court in the first round. At Wimbledon, Gauff was the young qualifier ranked No.313 in the world. She was on the ride of her life – three rounds of qualifying played, not a set dropped and now an appointment with a legend – and she was making the most of it. She won 6-4, 6-4.

In Melbourne on Monday, Gauff was now the seasoned campaigner – or as seasoned as anyone two months shy of their 16th birthday can be – and she marched on court with her game face on. This was no longer a dream; this was the day job. She was now the world No.67 with one singles and two doubles titles to her name. And she won again 7-6, 6-3.

“I definitely was more confident this time,” Coco said. “I think I was used to playing on big courts, so the crowd… I guess the size of the crowd didn’t startle me as much as last time. Yeah, definitely a bit more positive coming into this match this time around.

“I definitely think I served better this match. I feel like I was hitting my shots a little bit better. I think last time, even though I still think I played well last time, I think I was just trying to let her miss. That didn’t work out.

“I knew I had to be more aggressive this time. I think I resorted back to trying to make her miss this time. Once I figured that wasn’t working out, I knew I had to get back to being aggressive.”

Proof positive, then, that they grow up fast, these youngsters. Yes, Coco happily admits to being a typical teenager but, no, there is no way she is a typical 15-year-old airhead – all social media, selfies and self-obsession. Coco has big ambitions, she is willing to work herself narrow to achieve them and she is soaking up information and experience like a sponge.

“I feel like my mindset has changed since the US Open,” she said. “US Open, I feel like I was on edge every match just because everyone was talking about US Open before Wimbledon even ended. So I knew that was the next thing.

“I guess I came to the realisation that I need to play my game, not worry about what people think of me. At the end of the day, I did have three good matches, both US Open and Wimbledon. I still have a lot more to, I guess, become like one of those big names. I feel like I still have a lot to improve, yeah.”

She also has to get over being star struck by her idols, two of whom just happen to be the Williams sisters. And with the way the grand slam draws have been working out recently, she and Venus seem set on a collision course wherever they go. Slowly but surely, Coco is learning to think of Venus as a friendly foe rather than royalty to be revered. But it ain’t easy.

“I was shocked by the draw,” she said.  “You probably wouldn’t think it would happen so soon in the first round of a major again.

“Obviously I look up to them. Every time, even just walking by them, I have to remember that even though they’re my idols, they’re also going to be my opponents sometimes. I have to remember that, too, as well.”

But if Venus is fed up with the Coco phenomenon, she is keeping it reasonably well hidden. When she took her pasting at Wimbledon, she heaped praise on her young countrywoman. When she lost this time around, she said all the right things but she did so from a distance. It was not like she was a part of history in the making (and most predict a massive future for Gauff if she can keep body and soul together) but rather that she was there to witness the inevitable. Coco is less than half Venus’s age – Venus will turn 40 in June – and Venus knows that the future is always stronger than the past.

“She played well,” Venus said, in remarkably convivial form despite the loss. “Just played very focused and put a lot of balls in the court. That’s what you have to do. She’ll play well the rest of the event. she clearly wants it, works very hard, is extremely mature for her age. I think the sky’s the limit for her.”

Standing between Coco and a shot at the defending champion, Naomi Osaka, is Sorana Cirstea who beat Barbora Strycova 6-2, 7-6 before the rain set in and brought everything to a very damp halt.

And finally, by way of an aside, did anyone catch sight of Grigor Dimitrov on the opening day? He is a fine figure of a man is Griggles, and he can wear pretty much anything he wants, from a Hugo Boss suit to a bin liner, and make it look stunning. And yet, and yet…

As he appeared in the Melbourne Arena to take on Juan Ignacio Londero on Monday, our Griggles was not so much wearing a tracksuit as a onesie – a black and gold spotted affair that made him look like the biggest toddler in town. But then he took off the onesie…and that was worse. His shirt is a red, pink, white and black number, a design that can best be described as “abstract” (or more truthfully described as ‘orrible) and is only saved by the fact that his shorts are a sensible shade of charcoal grey. The overall effect is unique: it is the only outfit on the planet that makes the gorgeous Griggles look daft.

Nike, though, must have a sense of humour. Every year they take Britain’s biggest, blondest Pom and put him in the most luminous of colours. It is not the brightness of the pink, man-made fibre encasing Kyle Edmund’s torso that ensures he can be seen from space; it is the way that pink clashes with blue-grey pallor of his Yorkshire complexion. And every year, Kyle wears his new, free, shirt and tries not to look in the mirror. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem fair.


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