Gauff Overcomes Muchova, Lengthy Protest Delay To Reach First US Open Final

Coco Gauff (photo: US Open video)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 8, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Coco Gauff has been the center of attention in women’s singles this US Open fortnight, round by round – becoming the first American teenager to advance to the semifinals since 2001. On Thursday evening, before a full house that filled cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium, the 19-year-old from Florida defeated No. 10 seed Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic, 6-4, 7-5, in reach her first US Open title match and second major final overall.

The sixth-seeded Gauff has now won 11 straight matches – a career-best winning streak – and 17 of her last 18, which has included winning the two biggest titles of her budding career, at Washington, D.C. and Cincinnati last month.

Although the official time of the match was two hours and three minutes, the semifinal was interrupted for 49 minutes by a protest led by a group of environmental activists. Wearing shirts that read “End Fossil Fuels,” the activists started chanting after Gauff won the opening game of the second set to take a 6-4, 1-0 lead.

The match was paused as tournament officials and security attempted to remove the activists from the upper bowl of the stadium. Both players left the court and sought refuge in the locker room, Gauff with her team chatting and Muchova to receive treatment on her right arm and abdomen. Although three of the four activists were quickly removed, the fourth glued his bare feet to the cement ground and refused to leave before more than 10 police officers arrived to remove him and escorted him from the stadium in handcuffs.

After resuming, the toughest part of the night for Gauff turned out to be closing out the match – she had plenty of chances. Finally, Gauff completed the job, thanks to some good shotmaking and nerves of steel. The American let one match point get away while serving for the win at 5-3. Later, at 6-5, Gauff set up the victory with a forehand winner that capped a tense 40-shot rally. Finally, she closed out the semifinal triumph after Muchova missed a backhand to reach her first US Open final on her sixth match-point opportunity. Gauff, who outpointed Muchova 74-58, was supported by a raucous crowd that cheered for her from first ball to last ball.

“Some of those points, it was so loud, and I don’t know if my ears are going to be OK,” Gauff said in her on-court interview. “I grew up watching this tournament so much, so it means so much to be in the final.”

Later, in her news conference, Gauff added: “It was a tough match. I had leads, lost it, and served for it. It was a lot of emotional, I guess, challenges in the match. But I think I did a good job of staying focused. I’m just really proud of myself today.”

Afterward, Muchova reflected upon her defeat to Gauff. “I’m pretty sad about the outcome, that I didn’t put the best out of me on the court,” she said. “Yeah, just kind of sad about the performance.”

Gauff is the fifth American teenager in the Open Era to advance to the US Open title match, and the first American teenager, male or female, since Serena Williams in 2001. On Saturday, she’ll try to become the fourth American woman to win the US Open since 2000, after Serena, her sister Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens.

Awaiting Gauff in the final will be 25-year-old No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, the highest remaining seed and winner of this year’s Australian Open. She battled past American and 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys 0-6, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5) in two hours and 32 minutes.

Alcaraz sets up semifinal against Medvedev

With his heavy-hitting straight-set quarterfinal victory over Alexander Zverev secured late Wednesday night on Arthur Ashe Stadium, defending champion and top seed Carlos Alcaraz has moved to within two victories of successfully defending his 2022 US Open crown.

The 20-year-old Spaniard beat the 12th seed Zverev from Germany, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, by relying on his heavy-hitting prowess, which garnered him 29 winners. He saved all five break points he faced and broke Zverev four times during the two-hour, 30-minute quarterfinal.

Now, with an opportunity to achieve a Wimbledon-US Open double in 2023, Alcaraz will face No. 3 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia in Friday’s semifinal round. The other semifinal will pair No. 2 Novak Djokovic of Serbia, who will return to World No. 1 next week, against No. 47 Ben Shelton of the United States.

“I’m very, very comfortable playing in this court, playing here in New York,” Alcaraz said. “I am showing my best level here.

“Last year was very tough, since the fourth round I played five sets [to get to the final]. Here, I’ve played just one match that has gone to four sets. I feel great physically and I am ready to play a great battle with Medvedev in the semifinals.”

Around the US Open

It’s been 13 years since the last time India’s Rohan Bopanna has played for the men’s doubles title at the US Open. On Friday, the 43-year-old from Bangalore will get another chance.

On Thursday, Bopanna and Matthew Ebden of Australia, seeded sixth, defeated unseeded French duo Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, 7-6 (3), 6-2, after saving a break point on Ebden’s serve at 2-4 to avoid being down a double break in the opening set, then breaking their opponents twice in the second set. Bopanna and Ebden combined to hit 36 winners.

“When we held after saving a break point to avoid going down a double break in the first set, that was really important,” said Bopanna, who in 2010 finished runners-up with Aisam-Ul-Haq-Ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan to Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan in the U.S. Open final. “We got some great energy from the crowd. Back in the final 13 years later for me, so I’m very happy.”

Bopanna and Ebden improved to 32-15 since teaming in the first week of the season in Adelaide. Since then, they won the Indian Wells crown and reached the semifinals at Wimbledon.

“Rohan beat me here in 2018 so I thought we should partner up,” Ebden added during the on-court interview. “We were both looking for partners at the end of last year so we decided to have a crack and we’ve been really enjoying it. Probably from the second month we’ve been going really well.”

On Friday, Bopanna and Ebden will face two-time defending US Open champions Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain after the No. 3 seeds held off reigning Roland Garros champions and second seeds Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Austin Krajicek of the United States, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. Ram and Salisbury will be trying to become the first doubles team to win three consecutive US Open titles.

“It’s been a tough year for us, but to play at this level and to stick together and beat probably the best team of the year, I’m so proud of our performance,” Ram said.

Added Salisbury: “We just knew we would fight hard to the end. Ram played amazingly in the third set and we’re really happy to be back in the final. … it’s not been the best year for us, so we didn’t think we’d be here. But there’s something about this place that brings out the best in us.”

By the numbers

Rohan Bopanna of India became the oldest Grand Slam doubles semifinalist in the Open Era (since 1968) at 43 years and six months, besting Canadian Daniel Nestor’s record of 43 years and four months set in 2016 at the Australian Open.

Coco Gauff is the youngest woman to appear in multiple Grand Slam finals (including her first at 2022 Roland Garros) since Maria Sharapova (Wimbledon 2004 and US Open 2006) and the youngest American woman to do it since Monica Seles, from 1990-93.

Quotable …”

“I’m more mature now. I grew up a lot since last year. Last year I was facing my first semifinal of a Grand Slam. Now, I’m facing my fourth one. I feel like I’m a totally different player.

“It doesn’t matter that last year I got my first Grand Slam, that I won my first semifinal and final of a Grand Slam. I feel like I’m more mature. I deal better with the pressure in those kinds of moments. I feel like I’m different, a different person and a different player.”

– Defending champion Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, during his post-match news conference after defeating Alexander Zverev, describing what has changed about him since winning the 2022 US Open.