Gauff, the seventh-ranked women’s tennis player in the world, cruised. She simply had more power than the 86th-ranked Fernandez, uncorking several 123 mph serves.
“It was great to see how she was able to be so accurate,” Fernandez said. “She’s going to get better, so I’ve got to keep working and we’ll see if I can return one of her serves in the future.”
Gauff was at her best early in the second set. Down 40-15 with Hernandez at the net, she returned several balls before lobbing one over Hernandez, dropping it in comfortably. She then turned to the crowd, smiling and shrugging, as if to ask “did I just do that?”
Gauff worked the crowd. She talked to spectators, asking for requests on where to serve. She even attempted a between-the-legs shot, which she promised she’d do prematch. Fernandez promptly returned it to win the point, but hey, it’s an exhibition for a reason. Gauff tried another tweener on game point in the second set, barely missing wide.
She took advantage of the exhibition status.
“I tried to underhand serve, and I usually always miss those,” Gauff said. “I did try a little tweener but I didn’t go, and a lefty (serve), and I almost made that. So I’m proud of myself for trying something new.”
Despite that, both Gauff, 19, and Fernandez, 20, played mostly seriously. The win was comfortable for Gauff, but it wasn’t a lack of effort for Fernandez.
Gauff isn’t fully an Atlanta native, as she was born and trained in Florida, but she has Atlanta roots. She was announced at the match as born in the city, but really, lived in Atlanta from the age of two until third grade. She has friends and family in the city.
Hours before the match, she talked about how the city shaped her, especially as a black woman in a predominantly white sport.
“Spending time in Atlanta and just having the foundations when I was a kid in Atlanta really taught me to love myself and stay true to myself and stay true to my culture and just stay true to my roots,” Gauff said. “I really don’t think I would have had that experience without spending time in Atlanta.”
Speaking after, she doubled down.
“I love the culture here,” Gauff said. “Being a black woman in tennis, having the support of all the people in Atlanta means a lot to me, truly.”
She even teased increasing her Atlanta ties. While she’s still a teen and admitted she’s not ready to leave home just yet, she is thinking about buying a home somewhere in Atlanta.
Now, Gauff is giving back. On Saturday, she and actress Storm Reid announced in a ceremony that they would be donating to help renovate Brownwood Park in East Atlanta. Reid will be helping fix up the playground, but Gauff donated to something near and dear to her heart -- the tennis courts.
“Money is great, but when I die, you can’t take it with you, but you can leave the impact on people,” Gauff said. “That’s how I want to immortalize myself, is leaving (an) impact on as many people as I can.”
As part of tennis’s next generation, Gauff has her sights set on bigger prizes. Exhibitions at the Atlanta Open are important to her, but a Grand Slam title means more.
Of course, the city still means a lot to her. She knows she’ll be back in Atlanta, either in returning to her roots, living in the city as a home, or, she hopes, in the Sunday Showcase again next year.