Gauff to face qualifier in Auckland final

tennis07 January 2023 13:21| © AFP
Coco Gauff © Gallo Images

Top seed Coco Gauff said she couldn't have made a better start to 2023 after dispatching another opponent with ease on Saturday to cruise into the final at Auckland.

American teenager and world No 7 Gauff provided further evidence she will be a force at this month's Australian Open with a 6-0, 6-2 demolition of Montenegran seventh seed Danka Kovinic.

The hard-hitting Gauff is yet to drop a set at the WTA 250 tournament in New Zealand and will start firm favourite in Sunday's final against Spaniard Rebeka Masarova.

Masarova, ranked 130th, beat Belgian Ysaline Bonaventure 6-3, 6-3 in a semifinal featuring two qualifiers - their advancement deep in the tournament encapsulating a week in which the seeds have struggled.

The exception is Gauff, who hasn't dropped a set in her four matches and has conceded a total of just 20 games.

It will be a fourth career final for the 18-year-old and her first since losing the French Open decider to world No 1 Iga Swiatek seven months ago.

"I didn't expect this outcome coming into the tournament," Gauff said.

"I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season, regardless of the result tomorrow."

Gauff, who also made a quarterfinal run at last year's US Open, has won twice on the WTA Tour, most recently at Parma, Italy, nearly two years ago.

She was a class above 60th-ranked Kovinic, returning serve with ferocity on her way to winning the first eight games in little more than half an hour.

Her biggest challenge proved to be notching victory before storm clouds burst over centre court - a problem that has plagued organisers all week.

Victory was secured three minutes before a deluge which delayed the second semifinal by about two hours.

Gauff said she was keen to avoid waiting around for her match to restart.

"I was trying to stay focussed on the match and not on the rain coming but it definitely plays in the back of your head when you know you’re close to the end and there’s a time constraint."

Masarova, 23, will contest her first WTA final after impressing this week with her big serving.

She also hasn't dropped a set in a run that includes an opening-round upset of second-seeded American Sloane Stephens.

"Beating one good player randomly doesn't mean anything but doing it constantly gives me more confidence," she said.

"I've just taken it a game at a time. I felt great in qualifying and now it feels amazing. I'm high on emotions right now."