Coco Gauff's journey to her maiden Australian Open semi-final witnessed a hard-fought battle against Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk. The US Open champion triumphed 7-6, 6-7, 6-2 in an enthralling three-hour and eight-minute encounter, setting up a semi-final clash with Aryna Sabalenka.
However, former Australian Open finalist Arnaud Clement was critical of Gauff's performance, describing it as extremely poor. He pointed out Coco's passivity, highlighting Marta's proactive approach in the rallies. Kostyuk took risks and balanced winners with unforced errors, while Gauff seemed relatively subdued, doing nothing on the court.
Clement suggested that Gauff might face a quick exit in the semi-final if she does not elevate her game, especially against the formidable and in-form defending champion Sabalenka. The match at Rod Laver Arena was indeed a roller coaster ride, with Gauff overcoming a 5-1 deficit in the opener but faltering to close out the match in straight sets.
The better-ranked player ultimately seized control in the decider, securing the victory and extending her impressive streak in Major tournaments.
The contest witnessed over 100 unforced errors and 17 double faults, prompting Kostyuk to emerge as the more determined player. Despite hitting nearly 20 more winners than Gauff, Kostyuk could not secure the straight-sets win and succumbed in the deciding set.
The struggle behind the first and second serve was evident, with both players offering numerous break point opportunities - 36 to be exact! Gauff displayed resilience by saving seven out of 14 break points and converting nine out of 22, ultimately making the critical difference.
Coco won six points more thanks to her performance in the shortest and mid-range rallies. Although Kostyuk managed to erase the deficit in the more extended exchanges, it was not sufficient to secure a more favorable outcome.
Arnaud Clement urged Coco Gauff to raise her level ahead of the semi-final.
Two rivals battled for two hours and 20 minutes just to complete the opening two sets, missing numerous chances and allowing many turnarounds.
Kostyuk overcame a slow start and break points, leading 2-1 in the opener before securing the first break that sent her 3-1 in front. The Ukrainian came from 40-0 down in the fifth game, saving three break points and cementing the advantage.
Coco squandered game points and 1-4 and experienced another break, standing inferior on the court and falling 5-1 behind. Marta served for the opener in game seven when the nerves started to show up.
She lost serve at 15 and kept the rival in contention.
Gauff defended a set point on serve in game eight and climbed back to 3-5. Kostyuk had the second chance to wrap up the opener on her serve in game nine, experiencing another break and allowing Gauff to lock the result at 5-5 with a hold in game ten.
Coco secured her fifth consecutive game with a break in game 11, moving 6-5 in front and serving for the set. She failed to take the decisive step, getting broken for the third time and introducing a tie break. Marta squandered her second set point at 6-5, and Coco stole the breaker 8-6 for a massive boost.
The second set kicked off with back-to-back commanding breaks, and Coco defended a break chance in game five before scoring a break for a 4-2 advantage. Kostyuk pulled it back at love in game seven before experiencing another loose service game that pushed her 5-3 behind after squandering three game points.
Coco served for the victory in game nine and lost serve at 15, keeping her rival in contention. Marta held at love for 5-5, giving her best to prolong the battle and her chances. They held after deuces in games 11 and 12, arranging another tie break.
Kostyuk grabbed two mini-breaks for a 4-0 lead before moving 5-2 up and closer to the set. Coco lost another point behind the initial shot, trailing 6-2 and allowing Marta to convert the second set point and force a decider after nearly two and a half hours!
Gauff worked hard in the opening game of the final set, seizing her fourth break chance and building an early advantage. The American saved a break point in game two and held to cement the lead and open a 2-0 gap. Gaining a boost, Gauff grabbed another break in the third game, raising her level and moving closer to the finish line.
Coco gained a 4-0 advantage and broke at love a few minutes later, serving for the victory at 5-0. Marta pulled one break back at the last moment and held in game seven, reducing the deficit to 5-2. Gauff served for the victory for the second time and held at love in game eight, earning her 12th straight victory at Majors and moving into the semi-final.
"Coco did nothing for the entire match and could have lost. The two rivals had a different approach, with Marta taking many risks and attacking, hitting winners and unforced errors.
Coco erased a massive deficit in the decider, but instead of relaxing, she got tense again. Tennis-wise, it was an extremely poor performance. Coco will have to raise her level a lot in the semi-final regardless of her opponent, standing no chance if playing like this again," Arnaud Clement said.