One year after her run to the Roland Garros semi-finals, Johanna Konta fell at the first hurdle after a thorough 6-3, 6-3 beating from Coco Gauff, who produced a resourceful and intelligent performance on her French Open debut.
This was a timely win for Gauff since dealing with adversity in recent weeks after a swift rise to the top 50. She arrived in Paris with four defeats in her past five matches including a painful first round loss at the US Open.
But throughout, the 16-year-old has demonstrated a rare mental fortitude that has guided her through numerous tight matches. She applied it again here by breaking Konta’s opening service game.
Gauff served brilliantly on the important points in a set of long deuce games and she took advantage of the cold conditions by drawing errors from Konta with her clever defensive play. She constantly looked to extend rallies, slowing down the Briton with slice off both forehand and backhand, forcing Konta to generate her own pace.
Johanna Konta hits a forehand return against Coco Gauff during a first-round match in which she was outsmarted by her American opponent. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Konta has spent much of the past 18 months attempting to strengthen her considerable weaponry with more variety and she tried to counter Gauff by mixing in looping topspin forehands and drop shots, but drawn into longer points, Konta was unable to consistently hit winners past her young opponent. Konta made 22 unforced errors in the first set and after leading 2-0 in the second set she lost five successive games before a consolation at the finish. She hit 41 unforced errors in all.
The defeat leaves Konta with little else to play for this year. Her excellent semi-final run at the Western & Southern Open in August has proven to be the anomaly as Konta struggled to establish a rhythm, losing in the US Open second round. With the WTA season ravaged by Covid-19 and few tournaments remaining, she will have ample time to look for a new coach after parting ways with Thomas Hogstedt following a short trial period together in New York.
Elsewhere, top seed Simona Halep moved into the second round on her 29th birthday, winning 6-4, 6-0 against Sara Sorribes Tormo. Venus Williams lost 6-4, 6-4 against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, meaning the 40 year-old will finish 2020 with one win to her name.