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Gauff bests Venus again in opener at Australian

Gauff bests Venus again in opener at Australian

10:23 PM ET ESPN News Services MELBOURNE, Australia — Everyone had the same question when the Australian Open draw was revealed: What were the odds that Coco Gauff and Venus Williams would face each other again in the first round at a Grand Slam tournament? “I was a bit shocked,” Gauff said, “I’m sure everyone

MELBOURNE, Australia — Everyone had the same question when the Australian Open draw was revealed: What were the odds that Coco Gauff and Venus Williams would face each other again in the first round at a Grand Slam tournament?

“I was a bit shocked,” Gauff said, “I’m sure everyone was a bit shocked.”

Gauff, 15, played Williams, 39, to begin her first appearance in the main draw at Melbourne Park, just like what happened at Wimbledon last year. And, just like at the All England Club, the youngest woman in the field got the better of the oldest woman in the field, with Gauff beating Williams 7-6 (5), 6-3 on Monday.

“That was really difficult. She played really well,” Gauff said. “I was really nervous.”

It was the most anticipated match of Day 1 at the first major tennis tournament of the decade, and it did not disappoint. The first set, in particular, was intriguing, with Gauff repeatedly pulling ahead, only to have Williams — who already had won four of her seven Grand Slam singles trophies by the time Gauff was born — rebuff her.

It wasn’t until her fourth set point that Gauff finally pulled it out and she quickly grabbed a 3-0 lead in the second and never let that edge go.

Gauff already has demonstrated all sorts of terrific qualities on a tennis court, from her big, gutsy serves to an ability to track down opponents’ shots. Now you can add stick-to-it-iveness to the list.

The match was held in Margaret Court Arena, one of three stadiums in Melbourne with a retractable roof, and that was a good thing. For all of the concern among some players entering the tournament about air quality because of wildfires burning in parts of the country, the big issue Monday was a heavy storm that arrived in the afternoon and suspended play on outside courts for hours.

Among the other women who got a chance to play — and win — were defending champion Naomi Osaka, 23-time major champion Serena Williams and 2018 Australian Open winner Caroline Wozniacki, who is retiring after the Australian Open.

For something new, Osaka’s father, Leonard Francois, was in the crowd watching as she reeled off the last four games after dropping serve for the only time to beat Marie Bouzkova 6-2, 6-4.

Next up, Williams started her bid for a first major title as a mom when she beat 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-3. Williams has won the title seven times in Australia, and is aiming for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title. She hasn’t added to her Grand Slam tally since victory at the 2017 Australian Open, and then becoming Olympia’s mom. She managed to end one drought last week when she won the title in Auckland, New Zealand — her first since the Australian title three years ago.

“I hadn’t been able to win as a mom, so it was nice to finally be able to win a tournament with a 2-year-old now,” Williams said of her Auckland win. “I’ve been pretty close, but it was special for me and for her. I hope for her.”

Williams has lost four Grand Slam finals since her last title and is determined to end that streak.

She won seven straight games until Potapova held serve and changed the momentum — for a little while at least. The Russian got a service break, but Williams rallied quickly to get back on track.

Osaka thanked the crowd after her match, saying, “You probably didn’t come for me, but thanks for filling up the stadium.”

There was one person in particular who was there for only Osaka.

“My dad watched my match from my box for the first time during a Grand Slam,” Osaka, who won back-to-back majors at the 2018 U.S. Open and last year’s Australian Open, tweeted. “I feel so happy.”

She later explained: “He’s just superstitious. Because, like, he literally — because, like, before when he used to sit in my box I would just look at him and complain a lot, but I have matured over the past, like, three or four years he hasn’t sat in my box.”

Osaka is aiming to be only the ninth woman to successfully defend the Australian Open title. She wasn’t able to do that at the U.S. Open last year, when she lost in the fourth round, but says she learned some valuable lessons there.

“Definitely, it was really tough for me trying to control my nerves,” she said of her first-round win. “I’m really glad I was able to finish it in two.

Wozniacki beat Kristie Ahn 6-1, 6-3 in the last tournament of the former No. 1’s professional career. Wozniacki has announced she will retire after the Australian Open, where she won her first major title in 2018.

Two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova is also through to the second round after beating Katerina Siniakova 6-1, 6-0. Kvitova lost the final last year to Osaka.

Other seeded players advancing on the women’s side included No. 13 Petra Martic and No. 14 Sofia Kenin. Martic had a 6-3, 6-0 win over Christina McHale, and Kenin beat Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan 6-2, 6-4.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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