American tennis fans and media members will focus on the fact that Coco Gauff got knocked out of the Australian Open on Day 1, and they should. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Let’s simply be clear about this: It’s not a bad loss for Gauff. If you have forgotten about Wang Qiang, don’t think Gauff lost to a scrub. We need a little reminder about Wang, who is 30 years old and sent an early statement in 2022: She can still play big-league ball.
Remember Wang Qiang? She made the 2019 U.S. Open quarterfinals. She got blown out by Serena Williams in that quarterfinal match, but she then turned around at the 2020 Australian Open and knocked Serena out of the tournament in a highly dramatic match. Wang steadily built her game and her career, using the hard knocks of the WTA Tour as an educator and aid in a prosperous period.
The pandemic disrupted a lot of careers. One could say that as the tours return to recognizably normal calendar in 2022 — Indian Wells will be back in March, when it is normally played — and as the disruptions of the pandemic become less jarring for most players and fans (though still quite noticeable), you will see some of the bright lights of 2019 and early 2020 come back into form.
Enter Wang, who comfortably dismissed Gauff, 4 and 2.
Wang might not have been favored over Gauff by sports betting enthusiasts, but she was clearly the better player. She won decisively even though she made only 54 percent of first serves. She won the match by claiming 78 percent of second-serve points, allowing just four break-point chances to Gauff. Coco converted only one of them. Imagine what Wang could have done if she had served in the 60s. She handily defeated her American opponent on what was far from a good serving day. She was vastly superior from the back of the court and displayed the baseline consistency which marks her game when at its best.
Coco Gauff’s loss is Wang Qiang’s gain. A veteran who doesn’t just possess longevity, but also quality, showed the poise and resolve that a lot of Gauff’s veteran victims in recent years (think Polona Hercog and Timea Babos) have not displayed at major tournaments.
Coco Gauff has plenty of time to learn the finer points of tennis. On Day 1 of the 2022 Australian Open, Wang Qiang showed how much a tennis education mattered.