Billed as a match-up between two of tennis’ rising stars, the manner in which it played out suggests the women’s game is in more than capable hands for the foreseeable future.
At times, it was nervy, ugly tennis but, at others, it was the perfect advertisement for an aggressive, positive approach as both players went for their big groundstrokes regardless of the consequences.
In the end, Raducanu was undone by her inconsistency – in the first set alone she hit 21 unforced errors – while Gauff, the younger at 18 years old but the more experienced on the WTA Tour, showed the grit and determination to hold on.
It means for a fifth straight Grand Slam since her fairytale US Open success that the British No1 has not made it past the second round. In addition, she is yet to earn a win over a top-10 player.
Questions will potentially once again be asked about her physical state. She arrived on court with her ankle heavily strapped after turning it at the preceding ASB Classic but that did not seem to impair her movement. Instead, she appeared bother by a stomach issue during the course of the second set.
Raducanu has worked hard on her fitness over the winter months, adding Andy Murray’s strength and conditioning coach Jez Green to her team. And the manner in which she pushed one of the world’s best players for the duration of two sets will hopefully act as a springboard for the rest of the season despite the pain of defeat.
At points, the match-up between this pair threatened to become a classic and, while that didn’t quite ensue, it was still compelling viewing despite an error-strewn passages by both players.
Following the win, Gauff said: “I just told myself to hang in there. We both started rocky but the match was good quality for the most part.”
The match had to be played with the roof closed on Rod Laver Arena after heavy rain curtailed much of the day’s play on the outdoor courts.
And both players found themselves under pressure on serve throughout. Gauff defended two break points in game three before sealing the first break of the match in the very next game.
Raducanu immediately broke back in a seesaw contest only to be undone by a third successive break. She had the opportunity to again get the set back to parity but the American teenager held firm to take a deserved first set lead.
Gauff looked in danger of running away with the match as she pulled out a 3-0 lead in the second set but Raducanu responded by winning three games on the bounce herself as her opponent suddenly started to struggle with the enormity of the occasion and the prospect of victory.
Gauff tightened and her groundstrokes, which had been reliable for the most part up until that point, increasingly evaded her.
Sensing the opportunity, Raducanu moved ahead and had two set-point opportunities in an eight-minute 10th game. On the first, she went long in response to a loopy ball back from the other side of the net before Raducanu then misjudged a drop shot when a crosscourt backhand would have been more appropriate in her quest to force a decider.
Gauff again served to stay in the set two games later and did enough to force a tiebreak where momentum once again shifted. She never looked back from the opening mini break to take it 7-4 with what was her third match point.
In doing so, the teen booked her passage into round three and became the youngest player to 100 wins on the ATP Tour since Caroline Wozniacki.
The result, meanwhile, ended British interest in the women’s singles after Harriet Dart’s first-round demise.