Coco Gauff beats Elina Svitolina to defend Auckland Classic title & Elena Rybakina wins in Brisbane

Coco Gauff lifts the Auckland Classic trophy

Coco Gauff has won 10 successive matches at the Auckland tournament

American teenager Coco Gauff successfully defended her Auckland Classic title by battling back from a set down to defeat Elina Svitolina.

The US Open champion triumphed 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 6-3 to record her seventh win in eight career WTA singles finals so far.

Nineteen-year-old Gauff has now won 29 of her past 33 singles matches.

Elsewhere, Elena Rybakina claimed the Brisbane International title with a dominant straight-set win over Aryna Sabalenka.

The match was a repeat of last year’s Australian Open final, in which Sabalenka fought back from a set down to win her first major title, but on this occasion Rybakina swept the Belarusian aside 6-0 6-3.

An emotional Grigor Dimitrov clinched his first title for six years by beating Danish top seed Holger Rune 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 in the men’s final.

In the men’s doubles final, Briton Lloyd Glasspool and Dutch team-mate Jean-Julien Rojer won a match tie-break to prevail 7-6 (7-3) 5-7 12-10 against German top seeds Tim Putz and Kevin Krawietz.

The Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year, starts in Melbourne on 14 January.

Qualifying for the tournament begins on Sunday, with Harriet Dart and Heather Watson among eight British players aiming to join Katie Boulter, Jodie Burrage, Emma Raducanu, Cameron Norrie, Dan Evans, Andy Murray and Jack Draper in the main draw.

However, Liam Broady will not compete after the 30-year-old withdrew from qualifying following an MRI scan, which revealed two bone stresses in his ankle.

Gauff overcomes tough test to retain title

Gauff has never made it beyond the fourth round at the Australian Open but her form approaching this year’s opening major suggests she is ready to improve that record in 2024.

The teenager fulfilled the Grand Slam-winning potential she had shown since bursting on to the scene as a 15-year-old at Wimbledon in 2019 by clinching her maiden success at her home major in September.

She had only dropped 15 games in her four matches in Auckland prior to Sunday’s final, while her nine-match winning run at the tournament had been achieved without dropping a set.

A meeting with second seed Svitolina proved a much sterner test for Gauff – although it was one she would come through with admirable composure.

The Ukrainian, ranked 25th in the world just nine months after returning from maternity leave, clinched the tie-break at the end of an opening set in which Gauff squandered two set points when leading 5-4.

That was the first set Gauff had lost in two editions of the tournament – and it would be the last.

The American broke Svitolina’s serve three times in an impressive second-set response, before a single break in the eighth game of the decider allowed her to serve out for the title.

“This was my first time ever having to defend a title so I’m really happy I was able to do that today,” Gauff said.

“I’d like to congratulate Elina and your team on an incredible week. What you do, being a mum, coming back so fast and at such a high level, is inspiring.”

Joking, she added: “Hopefully – not any time soon – I’ll be able to do it like you did.”

Rybakina strikes blow before Australian Open

Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka

Elena Rybakina (left) breezed past Aryna Sabalenka in Brisbane

Sabalenka entered the Brisbane final on a 15-match winning streak in Australia yet the world number two was no match for the fourth-ranked Kazakh, who issued a serious statement before this year’s first major.

Neither player had lost a set in their run to the final but Rybakina took charge in dominant fashion from the outset on Sunday.

The 24-year-old swiftly took the opening set – without any reply from her Belarusian opponent – in just 25 minutes with three successive breaks of serve.

Sabalenka conceded another break to trail 2-0 in the second set but the former world number one halted the run of games against her by breaking back in the third game.

Any hope of a fightback was soon extinguished by Rybakina, who immediately restored her two-game advantage before serving out a comprehensive victory.

It also meant Rybakina cut Sabalenka’s lead in their head-to-head record to 5-3 as the year’s first Grand Slam looms.

“Despite the score, it’s always tough to play against you,” Rybakina told Sabalenka after being presented with the trophy.

“We always push each other and I think that’s great. We improve this way, so hopefully we continue.”

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