'Super nervous' Gauff steadies the ship

 - Simon Cambers

US teen halts Serbian qualifier's fightback in first outing seeded at a major

Coco Gauff, Roland-Garros 2021 first round© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Even the very best players get nervous.

Coco Gauff, the 17-year-old who many pick for a big run at this year’s Roland-Garros, came through a tough opening match on Tuesday, seeing off Aleksandra Krunic 7-6 (11), 6-4.

A semi-finalist in Rome and the title winner in Parma, Gauff came to Paris with plenty of confidence but found the Serbian qualifier more than a match.

The American saved four set points in the opening-set tiebreak before clinching it 13-11 after 85 minutes and then, having led 4-0 in the second set, withstood a bold fightback from the 213th-ranked qualifier to squeeze into the second round.

“I was super nervous going into today's match, to be honest,” said Gauff, after winning her first match as a seeded player in a Grand Slam event.

“Just because I knew she's a tricky player and she went through qualies and had some matches behind her. I went through qualifying before so I know how confident you are playing in the first round.”

Gauff was in front early, then down a break, then had a chance to close out the set but found herself set point down - four times - as the 28-year-old Krunic kept her at bay with some fine serving and big hitting.

Coco Gauff, Roland-Garros 2021 first round© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Every time Gauff was down set point, she went on the attack and when the teenager finally snatched the first set, she let out a huge roar that sounded like a mixture of relief and delight.

Gauff was cruising towards the finish line when she raced ahead 4-1 and then 5-1, before the nerves kicked in and she suddenly became a little more passive. Krunic took advantage to get all the way back to 5-4.

“I was nervous going in, and I think it showed,” Gauff said. “She played really well, great tennis. I didn't play my best today, but I'm happy that I was able to fight through it.

“(In) the first set, there were many moments I could have given up but I didn't. I'm happy with the result today.

“The first rounds are probably some of the hardest matches in the tournament, just because you're probably the most nervous.”

Gauff will next meet Wang Qiang of China but before that she has the small matter of a first-round doubles match with seven-time Grand Slam singles and 14-time Grand Slam doubles champion Venus Williams to look forward to on Wednesday.

“I'm actually super happy, because… my dad reached out to Venus's team last minute, because unfortunately my partner, I was playing with Caty (McNally), she got hurt in quallies, and we thought it was best if she rest and get ready for the grass.

“So I reached out last minute and I wasn't expecting a yes, to be honest. It was worth the ask. I'm happy she said yes. It's going to be super exciting.

"For me, I love playing doubles and hopefully I can pick up some things from her. She obviously has so many Grand Slams in doubles, and I want to win Grand Slams in singles and doubles. Maybe this week we can have a good run these two weeks. It's going to be exciting and I'm excited.”