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Coco Gauff crunch for Osaka as Djokovic bowls over wildcard

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Melbourne: Fifteen-year-old prodigy Coco Gauff set up an Australian Open blockbuster with defending champion Naomi Osaka on Wednesday, as Novak Djokovic strode towards his eighth title in Melbourne.

American teenager Gauff, showing a tenacity which is becoming her trademark, clawed her way back from a set down to beat the experienced Sorana Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Gauff, who screamed and pumped her fists as she completed her victory, said her “will to win” had got her through the tough second-round match at a windswept Melbourne Park.

“My parents always told me you can always come back — no matter what the score is,” said Gauff, who beat seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams in round one.

Gauff also beat Williams on her Grand Slam debut last year at Wimbledon, and in another quirk, she faced Osaka in the US Open third round, going down meekly in straight sets.

Japan’s Osaka, 22, beat China’s Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4 but briefly lost her cool mid-match, hurling and kicking her racquet when she gave up a break in the second set.

“I was thinking that I really don’t want to play a third set this time,” explained Osaka, who is defending a Grand Slam title for the second time.

Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, playing her final tournament before retiring, lived to fight again as she came from behind in both sets for a 7-5, 7-5 win over Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine.

And Australia’s world number one Ashleigh Barty raced through 6-1, 6-4 against Polona Hercog, buoying hopes of a first home winner since 1978.

“It was very different end to end, I think the wind was a massive factor particularly with the new ball,” she said.

– ‘Tough conditions’ –

Djokovic also weathered the breeze — which follows heavy rain on Monday, and smog from bushfires last week — to beat Japanese wildcard Tatsuma Ito 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in 95 minutes.

“They were tough conditions, pretty windy and it was hard to know where the balls were going. My serve helped a lot to get me out of trouble,” said the Serb.

Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas was handed a slice of fortune when Philipp Kohlschreiber withdrew injured from what looked like a testing match, giving the sixth seed a bye into the third round.

In other results, Petra Kvitova, last year’s runner-up, came through 7-5, 7-5 against Paula Badosa of Spain, and China’s Zhang Shuai ousted American Caty McNally 6-2, 6-4.

Among eight first-round matches held over from Tuesday, after rain wiped out half of Monday’s schedule, Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro, also retiring this year, upset Belarusian 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets.

Later in Melbourne, Serena Williams plays her second-round match against Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek, with Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles in her sight, and Roger Federer faces Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic.

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