ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe put it best late in the first set of the round of 16 match between 15-year-old Coco Gauff and Australian Open No. 14 seed Sofia Kenin. After a compelling rally filled with crisp shot selection by both players, he observed: "Both of these women have high tennis skills and high tennis IQs."
Unlike fellow Floridian Gauff, Kenin, 21, has largely flown under the radar despite a rapid rise in the rankings to No. 14 with three WTA singles titles already on her résumé. She'll be under the radar no longer, having knocked out Gauff 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 on Sunday in Melbourne, Australia.
Mature beyond her years
The tone for this match was set when Gauff, broken while still cold in the first game of the match, snapped back with a break to level the first set at 4-all. The quality of play was already high, but it went through the roof the rest of the way, with Gauff nipping off with that first set thanks largely to a pair of critical double faults by Kenin in the tiebreaker -- the second of which left Gauff with a 5-2 lead and two serves to come. The way Kenin retained her composure and avoided a letdown that would have opened the floodgates for Gauff was a sign of great mental toughness and composure.
Coco wins 1st set tiebreak
Coco Gauff rallies from a break down to take the opening set over Sofia Kenin.
The emotional tab came due
Gauff has been in the middle of another electric ride, this time at the Australian Open. Given how poised she is and the maturity of her game, it's easy to overlook the fact that she's still just 15, came into this match off matches against three tough opponents -- including Venus Williams and defending champion Naomi Osaka -- and did her best to handle all the hype surrounding her remarkable progress. By midway in the second set, she was looking gassed. It's been an emotional week for Gauff; she just hit the wall.
Exercises in problem-solving
Both of these young women have versatile games, but where Gauff can back up her skills with explosive athleticism, Kenin must live by her wits. Kenin showed in this match how fluent she is with the entire tennis hymnal. The way she dialed up her game in the first set to play with a bit more risk in the second set, then scaled it back in the final set as she recognized she could tease errors out of her tiring rival was impressive. She also picked up on the way Gauff's forehand was starting to falter and probed that side more forcefully in the late stages. Gauff ultimately made 21 unforced errors on the forehand side. Technically, that was her undoing.
Kenin takes 2nd set vs. Coco
Sofia Kenin takes the second set against Coco Gauff, 6-3.
The toll of unforced errors
In quality players, unforced errors often go hand in hand with fatigue -- especially when the opponent is a player like Kenin, who knows how to pick apart a weakness. In addition to 21 forehand unforced errors, Gauff also misfired with the backhand 17 times. By contrast, Kenin made just 12 unforced forehand errors and miscued on the backhand side a paltry five times.
A tale of two serves
Forget those seven Gauff double faults that seemed to jump out of the television screen. She likes to go big on both serves, and the damage she did with powerful second serves more than compensated for the errors. The bigger service problem for Gauff was a so-so first serve conversion percentage against a player who's highly capable of exploiting second serves. Gauff put just 56% of her first serves into play yet won just 44% of her second-serve points. Kenin converted an outstanding 73% of her first-serve chances, which helped keep Gauff at bay. That ensured Gauff was able to convert just one of her break points, while Kenin made good on 5 of 12. Gauff's serve was more dangerous, but Kenin's was effective.