Coco Gauff digs deep to beat Svitolina, retain Auckland crown

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Coco Gauff battled past Elina Svitolina 6-7(4) 6-3 6-3 in the Auckland Classic final on Sunday to retain her title, and will head to the Australian Open brimming with confidence as she targets a second Grand Slam crown.

Gauff, who burst onto the scene at Wimbledon five years ago, enjoyed a stellar 2023 as the 19-year-old American won her first major trophy at the U.S. Open in September to reach a career-high world ranking of number three.

The Auckland top seed continued to build momentum in the new season by winning the tune-up for the Jan. 14-28 Australian Open, losing only one set after a thorough test in the final by twice Melbourne Park quarter-finalist Svitolina.

“This is my first time ever having to defend a title, so I’m really happy I was able to do it today,” said Gauff, who claimed her seventh career WTA singles trophy.

“This year’s tournament was a lot different,” she added, thanking the boisterous crowd.

“Last year it rained almost every single match and we were playing indoors with just a few people watching so it’s really cool to play in front of a packed crowd almost every match.”

Both players dropped serve twice in the opening set before Gauff’s level dipped slightly as she squandered two set points at 5-3 to allow the big-hitting Svitolina to claw her way back and take the early lead in the match via the tie-break.

But Gauff responded strongly to breeze through the next set and level the contest at one set apiece, and held her nerve after grabbing the crucial break in the eighth game of the decider to close out the victory.

“It’s been a really great experience to play for the first time here,” said Ukraine’s Svitolina, who returned to the tour last April following the birth of her daughter with fellow tennis player Gael Monfils.

“I want to congratulate Coco and her team for a great start to the year. Good luck at the Australian Open.

“I’ve been enjoying myself here playing great matches. Tough loss today, of course,” added Svitolina, who steadily found her best level with stunning runs to the French Open quarter-finals and the Wimbledon semi-finals last year.