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US Open tennis 2021 – Coco Gauff on close bond with Sloane Stephens and ‘weird’ Serena Williams absence

US Open tennis 2021 - Coco Gauff on close bond with Sloane Stephens and 'weird' Serena Williams absence

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Coco Gauff is expecting a “full-circle moment” when she faces Sloane Stephens at the US Open on Wednesday, with the pair sharing a close relationship since they were children.

Gauff, 17, rallied from a set down and 0-2 in the second set to beat Magda Linette 5-7 6-3 6-4 in the first round on Louis Armstrong Stadium.

She will next face fellow American Stephens, who she shares a strong history with. The pair attended each other’s birthday parties not long ago and also started their respective tennis careers with the same coach.

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“I do remember when I was 10 years old, I had a birthday party at a water park, and she came to it, which is really cool,” Gauff said about Stephens, who beat another American, Madison Keys, in the first round.

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“All my friends were excited that Sloane Stephens is at your birthday, professional tennis player. It was really cool. I’ve also been to a couple of her birthday parties, family get-togethers, I would say, when she was turning 20-something. Somewhere in the 20s…I think I was like 11 or 12.”

“I’ve known her for a long time. Her and I started with the same coach, Sly Black, he coached me until at least I was 13. I have a good relationship with her.

“Facing her I guess is going to be a full-circle moment just because I was young when I met her, and now we’re going to be playing on the biggest stage, one of the biggest stages, on Wednesday.”

Gauff was pushed to the limit in her opening match but eventually came through in two hours and 40 minutes.

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“Today was probably one of the most nervous I’ve been for a match just because everything leading up to the US Open is always so big and grand,” she said.

“So I came, and I didn’t want to disappoint all the supporters I had out there cheering me on. Then I just realized I just need to enjoy it. The people in the stands looked like they were enjoying the match. I think I needed to enjoy it as much as they were.”

Gauff’s best performance at the US Open was in 2019 when she made it to the third round.

She is the highest-ranked American in the draw this year after Sofia Kenin, Jennifer Brady and Serena Williams all pulled out.

Reflecting on the absence of Serena and Venus Williams, who are both out with injury, Gauff said: “Not easy to see, especially for me, since I’m a big fan.

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“Obviously the reason why I’m here is because of them. So I guess it’s a little bit weird not having at least one of them play. But I wish both of them a speedy recovery. I will say the news was definitely shocking for me and I was a tad bit disappointed.”

Serena is still recovering from a torn hamstring suffered at Wimbledon while Venus was forced to withdraw due to a leg injury.

It is the first time that neither are in the draw at the US Open since 2003, and Gauff remembers watching them both live as a youngster.

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“I do remember I sat first row on Arthur Ashe,” she said. “My dad spent a lot of money on good tickets. I remember when they pass out all the balls at the end of the match, I think one of the balls bounced back on the court because it sometimes happen.

“This is my assumption, I don’t know if it’s true, but it looked like she told the ball kid to give it to me because the ball kid directly gave the ball to me. I just remember being so excited. This was Venus.”

“Then Serena I’ve seen a couple of times on Ashe. That’s probably the most significant memory I would have as a kid watching them play.”

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