Chris Evert rates Jo Konta’s first-round opponent Coco Gauff as big French Open threat


Gauff will face Konta on Sunday (Picture: Corbis via Getty)

Chris Evert believes Simona Halep is the French Open favourite but warned the field to ‘look out’ for Coco Gauff.

That won’t be music to the ears of Britain’s Johanna Konta, the ninth seed and a semi-finalist in Paris last year, who has been tasked with facing the young American in the first round.

Gauff, 16, has never competed in the main draw at Roland Garros but has won the juniors title and has proven herself to be a major threat to big names at Grand Slams.

Venus Williams and Naomi Osaka are among those to have fallen to the young American in the early stages of Grand Slams but Evert, who won the French Open seven times, thinks she could go the distance at Roland Garros this year.

‘One of 20 players [can win the tournament], but my favourite is I think is Simona Halep,’ Evert told Eurosport. ‘Of all the players, to me she’s the most solid, she’s the most reliable.

‘She has the perfect clay court game, perfect, she moves well and she’s consistent, and those two ingredients make her a great player… and the fact that I think she’s gotten more mentally tough over the past few years, and again she didn’t play the US Open, so to me I think that gives her more fire coming into the French.’

Asked who the biggest threats to Halep are, she added: ‘I say look out for Coco Gauff.

Konta will face Gauff on Sunday (Picture: AFP via Getty)

‘I know she’s had some losses and I feel like she’s feeling the pressure a little bit more this year than last year, but I still think she’s dangerous and I still think, when she’s playing pressure free and relaxed, she could beat any of the top players, so I still say look out for her.’

Konta and Gauff will go head-to-head for the first time on Suzanne-Lenglen on Sunday, with the latter emerging as one of the biggest stars in the sport despite her young age.

She has impressed both on and off the court after her meteoric rise to stardom, using her platform to raise awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement.

But Konta is keen to block out all the noise and hype surrounding the teenager and focus instead on the matter at hand.

‘I’m very clear on the fact that I’m going in playing another professional tennis player who is one of the best ranked in the world,’ said Konta. ‘It doesn’t matter if she’s 14 or 40. I think she’s there for a reason.

‘It’s going out on court respecting the player that I’m about to play. I’m going to be playing against the tennis that she brings, not her social media following, not her persona.

Halep is Evert’s French Open favourite (Picture: Getty)

‘I’m going out there to play the player that she is, and equally she is with me. As long as I can keep a good perspective, I’ll give my best chance to try and be competitive and do the best that I can against the player that I’m coming up against.’

As for the other players who could challenge pre-tournament favourite Halep, Evert named three more Grand Slam champions who could go all the way.

‘Victoria Azarenka is a possibility, but I think 95% of her tournaments that she’s won have been on hard court, and I think she really looks for that solid footing,’ added Evert.

‘So, I’m not sure about her moving and her sliding on the clay, but I certainly think you’ve got to give her a shot.

‘I feel like Sophia Kenin has lost confidence since the Australian Open, I mean, she lost love and love to Azárenka and if she gets it back, for sure you have to give her a shot, but right now I think she’s low on confidence.

‘Garbine Muguruza’s been impressive, she’s been very impressive, you’ve got to give her a shot.’

One notable absentee from Evert’s list was Serena Williams.

Williams is still setting her sights high (Picture: Corbis via Getty)

Recovering from an Achilles problem sustained in her US Open semi-final defeat to Azarenka and competing at what is statistically her worst Slam, she is not expected to match Margaret Court’s Grand Slam record in Paris.

However, that won’t stop her setting herself the target of winning a fourth French Open.

‘I think a semi-final is always great. Is it great for me? Absolutely not,’ said Williams on her 39th birthday. ‘That’s just how I feel. That’s how I always feel. It is what it is.

‘I’m happy that I can feel that way. And really there was nothing I could do. Yeah, there was nothing I could do in the end. It was what it was. I mean, I’m in a position in my career where I cannot be satisfied.

‘I don’t want to sit here and say, Oh, I’m happy. Because I’m not.’

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