Gauff Exudes The Thrill And Joy Of Victory After Winning D.C. Title

Coco Gauff (photo: Dustin Satloff/Mubadala Citi DC Open)

WASHINGTON, August 7, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Moments after Coco Gauff secured match point of her 6-2, 6-3 victory to capture the Mubadala Citi DC Open title Sunday afternoon over Maria Sakkari, before another sellout crowd of 7,500 that filled Stadium Court at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park, the 19-year-old American teenager – whose mix of athleticism, power and racquet skills made her a champion this week – exuded a sense of vivacious joy. It was reflected in her glowing personality as she soaked in the plaudits of an appreciative crowd.

For the moment, Coco was happy and having the time of her young life.

The thrill of victory that Gauff shared with her fans, her team and, by extension, a worldwide audience was expressed through the raising of her arms as she dropped her racquet to the ground. It was also conveyed through the big smile on her face and, perhaps in an homage to Venus and Serena Williams, the celebration also included a little dance and a pirouette to celebrate what she had just accomplished: a brilliant one hour, 24-minute triumph over Sakkari, which was the champion’s second Top-10 win of the season.

By garnering her fourth career WTA singles title and second of the season following her crown won in Auckland the first week of 2023 – and, now, her first win on American soil – Gauff culminated her resurgent week by dominating each of her four opponents: America qualifier Hailey Baptiste, No. 15 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, No. 18 Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, who was the defending champion, and, finally, No. 9 Sakkari of Greece.

The World No. 7 Gauff, who was seeded third in D.C., did not lose a set across the eight she played –  braving the summer heat and humidity – and surrendered only 19 games throughout the tournament. It was her first WTA 500 title win — and comes in the first year since the D.C. event was upgraded from a 250-series tournament — and Gauff ranked it up there with her 2022 French Open runner-up finish.

“I think the caliber of players I have beat this week was probably the strongest out of all the tournaments I’ve played,” Gauff said during her post-match news conference.

Although Gauff came in with a losing (1-4) head-to-head against Sakkari, 28, she blazed a trail by winning 15 of the first 20 points of the title match and quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead with a solid return game. It seemed that Sakkari’s nerves were getting the best of her, too. Gauff would go on to win the last three games of the opening set.

Then, she twice came from a break behind in the second set. After Sakkari pulled ahead 3-2 and it looked like a decider loomed, Gauff won the next four games and, quickly, it was game, set, match, championship for the Atlanta native who now lives in south Florida. Talk about a confidence-building afternoon.

Gauff finished with a tournament-leading 25 aces, including seven in the final, which reflected her improved serving game. Also, there was Gauff’s noticeably improved groundstrokes – especially her forehand, which seemed less of a liability to her than at Wimbledon – and all-court aggression resulted in Gauff generating 10 break points, which she converted six. Gauff outpointed Sakkari 62-43.

“How everybody’s going to play me on the scouting report is pretty clear,” Gauff said. “I think that consistently this week I have beaten that scouting, and I think that’s why the players tend to get a little more frustrated. [Maria] clearly had a plan, and I think that I kind of just made that plan fizzle out a little bit.”

In her on-court remarks during the trophy ceremony, Gauff gave props to her new coach Pere Riba and consultant Brad Gilbert, who is well known in North American circles for his work as an ESPN tennis analyst and formerly as the coach of present and future Hall of Famers Andre Agassi and Andy Murray.

“It’s our first tournament as a full team,” Gauff said. “I’m glad that we were able to make this result. I know those that were with me at Wimbledon, it was really a tough couple of weeks ago. We were all feeling it. I’m glad I was able to bounce back.”

It all added up to a remarkable turnaround for Gauff who, like Sakkari, bowed out of the Wimbledon Championships following a disappointing first-round defeat last month. Although Sakkari retired a seven-match losing streak in the semifinals after she beat World No. 4 and top seed Jessica Pegula on Saturday, the Greek star fell to 1-7 in her career in WTA Tour-level singles finals with her loss to Gauff.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed, I’m not gonna lie,” Sakkari admitted in press. “You know, she played good, and I didn’t bring my best tennis on the court today. But at the same time, you know, I have to give credit to Coco.”

Now, as Gauff heads off to Montreal to compete in the Omnium Banque Nationale, a WTA 1000 event, she leaves the nation’s capital city as the youngest champion in the history of the tournament and is the third American following Sloane Stephens (2015) and Pegula (2019) to win the event. She also becomes the first teenager to win four or more titles since Caroline Wozniacki in 2009.

By the numbers

By winning the Washington, D.C. title, it marked the first time that Coco Gauff had defeated multiple Top 20 players in a single tournament in more than two years. The last time came at Rome in May 2021.

“Quotable …”

“I’m not going to sit here and act like this is the best tennis I can play. I do think that I can get better.”

– Newly-crowned Washington champion Coco Gauff, during her post-match news conference, after beating Maria Sakkari.