American Coco Gauff has almost seemed destined for the 2023 ASB Classic title since she first arrived – with a relaxed, albeit ruthless air – and so it proved.
There is always hope every year that Auckland champions will go on to big things. With Gauff there is no doubt, as it seems only a matter of time.
We almost saw two matches on Sunday, as weather intervention meant a two-hour delay, but it didn’t faze the 18-year-old.
Although Spaniard Rebeka Masarova was more competitive after the break, Gauff had all the answers, and prevailed 6-1, 6-1 in 107 minutes.
At times this final was an art exhibition, as the world No 7 displayed her full repertoire. Thunderous serves, touch volleys, searing winners, delicate drop shots and judicious lobs, all accompanied by her rapid, dazzling movement.
And this was a special victory for Gauff; her first title since 2021, the third of her career and, as she joked, her first tournament victory on hardcourt since she was 15.
“It’s been great,” said Gauff. “Honestly a great week for me despite the rain, I can’t ask for a better start to my season.”
She said it was the perfect entrée for the Australian Open.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” said Gauff. “You never know how your first week is going to go, it could be good or terrible. But it’s been a great week.”
World No 130 Masarova, who had come through qualifying on an amazing run, had never been on this kind of stage. Indeed, she had never faced a top-30 player, let alone someone with weapons like this. She fought gamely but couldn’t raise her level high enough for long enough.
“She was amazing – she played really unbelievable and didn’t really give me a chance,” admitted Masarova.
But this was deserved for Gauff. She has been a delight this week, a supreme ambassador in all media and sponsorship appearances. More importantly, she was peerless on court, dropping only 22 games across 10 sets.
Gauff was perhaps fortunate with the early demise of highly-rated rivals like Emma Raducanu, Leylah Fernandez and Sloane Stephens – but it is doubtful they could have matched her in this form anyway.
She has handled the pressure of being top seed adroitly, and shrugged off the constant issues, with delays, schedule changes and two matches moved indoors.
After the week we’ve had, it was almost inevitable there would be another weather-induced twist in the tail. Following a blazing hot day in Auckland, the rain came just before the players were due on court for the 5pm start.
The match eventually got underway at 6:45pm, with Gauff’s first act a wide angled ace. She meant business, underlined by a staggering point in the second game, when she bounded like a cat to retrieve, then finished with a crisp angled volley.
There was more, one of the shots of the week to set up a break point, a forehand down the line so precise it belonged in a coaching video.
Masarova looked like someone in her first WTA final; a mix of sweet and sour, as she struggled to find her range.
Gauff was in full flow, even executing a drop shot from behind the baseline. The match was competitive for the first three games, before Gauff lifted. The American sprinted to a 5-1 lead, with Masarova just hanging on.
The Spaniard saved one set point and Gauff had another, before a light mist started. It was obvious that Masarova wanted the break – as she retreated to her chair.
After nearly two hours, play resumed. Masarova was ready to fight – saving four set points – one with a precise pass – before Gauff came up with a savage cross-court winner to finally set it.
Masarova gradually eased into the match, but couldn’t force open any doors, as Gauff negated all 11 break opportunities. When the end came, it was appropriately a wicked spinning drop shot, before Gauff set off on a victory jig.