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Preview: Coco Gauff vs. Qinwen Zheng - prediction, tournament so far

Sports Mole previews Tuesday's Italian Open quarter-final between Coco Gauff and Zheng Qinwen, including predictions, head-to-head and their tournament so far.

With an Italian Open semi-final berth on the line, fledgling stars Coco Gauff and Qinwen Zheng clash for the first time at the top level in Tuesday evening's quarter-final showdown.

The American third seed fought back from a set down against Paula Badosa in her last-16 encounter, while the Australian Open runner-up made light work of former Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka.

Match preview

Coco Gauff reacts at the French Open on June 3, 2023© Reuters

The first serious Rome scare arrived for Gauff before she squared off with the formidable Badosa in the last 16, as Romanian lucky loser Jaqueline Cristian achieved a shock bagel in their third-round battle, even if the US Open champion did eventually prevail in three.

On Monday morning, Gauff's powers of recovery were exhibited during her contest with Spain's Badosa - entering with a protected ranking and on the back of her public split with Stefanos Tsitsipas - as the American came through 5-7 6-4 6-1 in two hours and 27 minutes.

After the pair had broken each other four times in the opening two sets, Badosa was immediately in the ascendancy in the decider as Gauff lost serve straight away, but the 20-year-old responded emphatically with a six-game winning sequence before warmly embracing her Spanish foe at the net.

Despite racking up an alarming 11 double faults, Gauff's well-documented work on her serve is paying dividends - she won 81% of points behind her first on Monday en route to a third WTA 1000 quarter-final of the year, although she still has just the one Masters triumph to her name from Cincinnati last year.

Nevertheless, the US Open champion can now proudly boast 10 victories at the Italian Open, joining an exclusive club of American players to also achieve that feat before their 21st birthday; only Chris Evert, Serena Williams and Venus Williams have previously done so for the USA.

Qinwen Zheng reacts at the Australian Open on January 24, 2024© Reuters

However, Gauff's upcoming foe Zheng has already sent one former major winner packing in this year's Rome Masters, pitting her wits against the returning Osaka after eliminating Shelby Rogers and Linda Noskova from her opening two battles on the clay.

Just 84 minutes had passed before the 2024 Australian Open runner-up sealed a dominant 6-2 6-4 victory over Osaka, converting all four break point opportunities she fashioned against the former world number one as she continues her love affair with the Italian courts.

As a 17-year-old, Zheng became a professional champion for the first time in Cordenons, her maiden WTA Tour title came at the Palermo Ladies Open last year, and she has now reached the quarter-finals of the Italian Open for the second year on the spin.

However, the world number seven still does not have a Masters semi-final on her CV; her Rome run was brought to an end by Veronika Kudermetova at this stage last year, while she also bowed out of this year's Dubai Tennis Championships at this stage to Iga Swiatek.

Underwhelming campaigns at Indian Wells and Miami led to Zheng admitting that she was lacking in motivation after her memorable run to the Australian Open final, but a shot at revenge over world number one Swiatek - who faces Madison Keys for the right to meet the winner of this quarter-final - is quite the incentive indeed.

Tournament so far

Coco Gauff:

First round: Bye
Second round: vs. Magdalena Frech 6-3 6-3
Third round: vs. Jaqueline Cristian 6-1 0-6 6-3
Round of 16: vs. Paula Badosa 5-7 6-4 6-1

Zheng Qinwen:

First round: Bye
Second round: vs. Shelby Rogers 6-2 6-0
Third round: vs. Linda Noskova 3-6 6-1 6-2
Round of 16: vs. Naomi Osaka 6-2 6-4

Head To Head

Tuesday evening's quarter-final will see the two youngest players in the WTA top 25 go head-to-head, but as mentioned, there has never been a top-level meeting between Gauff and Zheng before.

The embryonic pair are not complete strangers to one another, though; they locked horns at the Orange Bowl - a leading tournament for teenage players - in 2018, where Gauff won in three sets before lifting the trophy aloft.

Fast-forward to 2024, and Gauff's overall record for the year is superior - she has won 21 of her 28 matches for a success rate of 75%, while Zheng's tally of 13 triumphs from 21 matches puts her down at 62%.

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We say: Gauff to win in three sets

While Gauff is making strides to improve her service game, Zheng can be confident of winning a few cheap points via double faults from the American, and the way in which the Chinese clinically dispatched Osaka saw her lay down a serious marker.

Zheng has certainly caught the tennis bug again, but Gauff's defensive mastery can wear the 21-year-old down en route to a spot in the Rome semis.

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