Coco Gauff knew the perfect word to describe her victory on Day 1 of the U.S. Open on Monday night.
“Slow,” Gauff said during her on-court interview, then sort of suppressed a smile and paused for effect, drawing laughter from a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd that rattled her opponent, Laura Siegemund.
What Gauff meant was the pace of Siegemund, a 35-year-old qualifier from Germany who took her sweet time between points and never seemed ready to play when the 19-year-old from Florida was. The sixth-seeded Gauff also could have been referring to her own start to the match, one she eventually turned around and won 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 to reach the second round at Flushing Meadows.
“I was really patient the whole match. She was going over the time since the first set. I never said anything. I would look at the umpire, and she didn’t do anything,” said Gauff, who got into a lengthy discussion with official Marijana Veljovic in the third set. “Then obviously the crowd started to notice that she was taking long, so you would hear people in the crowd yelling, ‘Time!’”
In the day’s last match, 23-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic made his return to the U.S. Open a swift one, defeating Alexandre Muller 6-0, 6-2, 6-3. Djokovic couldn’t travel to the United States last year because he wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19.
Siegemund, whose faults drew applause and whose own back-and-forth with Veljovic drew jeers, cried during her post-match news conference, saying the fans “had no respect for me.”
“I am very, very disappointed (by) the way the people treated me today,” said Siegemund, who has won U.S. Open titles in women’s doubles and mixed doubles. “This is something that I have to say hurts really bad. There is no doubt that I’m slow. … I should be quicker. But at the same time, it’s how I play.”
Added Siegemund: “They treated me like I was a bad person.”
With former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, in the audience, Siegemund outplayed Gauff for the first set, using all manner of slices and superb volleying.
Gauff had lost her past two Grand Slam matches — including a first-round exit at Wimbledon last month — and did not want to leave quietly or quickly this time. With thousands of partisan fans getting rowdier by the moment, she converted her eighth break point in a 30-point, 25-plus-minute game to begin the second set.
“It was a great mental boost,” Gauff said. “That game was a vital momentum changer.”
That put her in front for good. In the third set, Veljovic called Siegemund for a time violation. Brad Gilbert, who is one of two coaches working with Gauff lately, shook his head at how long it took Veljovic to intervene, and his reaction drew a smile from Gauff.
Serving while ahead 3-0 in that set, Gauff had enough and went over to make her case.
“She’s never ready when I’m serving. … How is this fair?” Gauff told Veljovic. “I’m going a normal speed. Ask any ref here. … I’ve been quiet the whole match. … Now it’s ridiculous. I don’t care what she’s doing on her serve, but (on) my serve, she has to be ready.”
Gauff wound up dropping that game. Later, Siegemund was docked a point for delaying, which put Gauff up 5-1. That prompted Siegemund to argue her case to Veljovic — “I can’t go to the towel anymore?” — and drew some boos.
There was another hiccup for Gauff toward the finish: She served for the match at 5-2 in the third, but double-faulted three times. Those were her only double-faults of the entire 2-hour, 51-minute match.
In the end, she held on, and it was Gauff’s 12th victory in 13 matches since the disappointing showing at the All England Club. This recent run includes the two biggest titles of the American’s career and a win over No. 1 Iga Swiatek.
Gauff and Swiatek could meet in the quarterfinals next week.
Looking ready for a serious defense of her U.S. Open title, Swiatek won Monday’s first match in Ashe — she needed all of 58 minutes to dismiss Rebecca Peterson 6-0, 6-1 — but otherwise, the going was rough for some of the highest-seeded players.
The No. 4 man, Holger Rune, was bounced 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 by the 63rd-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena; the No. 8 woman, Maria Sakkari, lost 6-4, 6-4 to the 71st-ranked Rebeka Masarova.
Sakkari said afterward she was bothered by the odor of marijuana in the air.
“The smell. Oh, my gosh,” Sakkari told the chair umpire in the first set. “It was weed.”
Rune had his own complaint — before the match.
The two-time major quarterfinalist, a 20-year-old considered part of the next generation of stars in men’s tennis, was not thrilled about being sent out to compete on Court 5, posting a map of the tournament grounds to help his supporters find the place.
“I just didn’t expect to play on that court,” Rune said afterward. “That’s obviously disappointing, but not going to blame the court on the loss.”