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Preview: Coco Gauff vs. Arantxa Rus - prediction, form, head-to-head

:Headline: Preview: Coco Gauff vs. Arantxa Rus - prediction, form, head-to-head:
Sports Mole previews Thursday's Madrid Open first-round match between Coco Gauff and Arantxa Rus, including predictions, form and their head-to-head record.
Sports Mole

Coco Gauff's bid for an inaugural Madrid Open crown begins on Thursday, as the American third seed pits her wits against the Netherlands' Arantxa Rus in the third round.

While the reigning US Open champion received a bye to this stage, her Dutch foe bested wild card Brenda Fruhvirtova in her opening battle to set up a daunting clash with Gauff.

Match preview

Ending a personal hex will be the overriding goal for Coco Gauff on the Spanish clay, as the Madrid Open remains the only Masters tournament that she had competed in but failed to advance beyond the third round in, suffering back-to-back exits at that stage in 2022 and 2023.

After her 2021 debut ended at the first hurdle to Karolina Pliskova, Gauff was sent packing in the third round by Simona Halep in 2022, before being denied a last-16 appearance in a straight-sets loss to Paula Badosa last year, only winning three games and suffering a second-set bagel.

However, the American arrives back in Madrid having checked off the Grand Slam and WTA 1000 boxes on her CV, firstly clinching her maiden Masters honour at the 2023 Cincinnati Open just a few weeks before her US Open coronation in front of the buoyant home crowd.

Gauff has only managed to add one more top-level honour to her cabinet since - defending her title at the Auckland Open in January - since when she has progressed to the last four at Indian Wells and the Australian Open, but her latest Masters campaign in Miami ended in round four.

The 20-year-old's Stuttgart run also ended prematurely with a quarter-final loss to Marta Kostyuk - despite managing to save a staggering nine match points on the day - and a 19-6 record for 2024 so far is still nothing to be scoffed at.

Fronting up to Gauff is a player almost 14 years the American's senior in Rus, a clay-court aficionado who won her first and only WTA Tour title to date on the surface during last year's Hamburg European Open, sinking Noma Noha Akugue in straight sets in the final.

Success in Germany spelled the end of an agonising 15-year wait for an inaugural top-level honour for the Dutchwoman since she turned professional in 2008, since when she has been a main-draw regular at Grand Slam events, her best result being a fourth-round appearance at the 2012 French Open.

The world number 47 has already recorded a couple of notable performances this year too, reaching the quarter-finals in Hobart, Rouen and Transylvania and decimating 24th seed Anhelina Kalinina in the first round of the Australian Open, losing just one game in that straight-sets success.

However, Rus only has two Madrid Open campaigns already under her belt - which came 12 years apart in 2011 and 2023 - as she lost her opening contest to Maria Sharapova in the former year before going down to Maria Sakkari in round two last year, having battled through qualifying and a first-round clash with Amanda Anisimova.

Seventeen-year-old Fruhvirtova became Rus's second Madrid victim in their opening contest on Tuesday, where the Dutchwoman remarkably fought back from 3-0 and 5-2 down in the first set and saved all four break points she faced in the second en route to a maiden meeting with Gauff.

Tournament so far

Arantxa Rus:

First round: vs. Brenda Fruhvirtova 7-5 6-3

Head To Head

As mentioned, Gauff and Rus have never crossed paths on the WTA Tour before, but despite having 13 years on her American foe, the latter has only one title to show at the top level compared to Gauff's seven; the third seed also boasts eight doubles crowns to Rus's four.

With 194 triumphs from 282 matches at the top level, Gauff's career win rate stands at 68.8%, slightly superior to that of Rus, who has prevailed in 672 of a staggering 1,081 encounters to post a percentage of 62.2%.

Thursday's contest will see a right-hander in Gauff come to blows with Rus's left-handed style, but the world number 47 possesses a terrific reach at 5ft 11in tall - she has two inches on the world number three.

We say: Gauff to win in two sets

Twice Fruhvirtova had the chance to serve for the first set against Rus on Tuesday, and twice the Dutchwoman broke back, showcasing her tremendous experience and powers of recovery against youthful opposition.

Rus could therefore expect some joy on the Gauff serve, which the American recently admitted needs some work, but the third seed should overcome any slight hitches to book her spot in the second round.

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