Coco Gauff fends off Venus Williams at Australian Open

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

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