The Summer Of Coco Gauff Culminates In Her First US Open Title

Coco Gauff (photo: Jürgen Hasenkopf)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 10, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Win or lose, it’s been very clear from Day One that Coco Gauff has been anointed the teenage queen of Queens of this year’s US Open.

The 19-year-old American from Florida has been the one everyone wants to take a selfie with, get an autograph from, be in their seats at Arthur Ashe Stadium on time for to see her in action, from first ball to last ball, fist-pumping “Come on!” to pump up both herself and the 24,000-strong crowd that fills the biggest tennis theater in the world each time she is featured on it – day or night session. It doesn’t matter. She has owned Flushing Meadows in the New York borough of Queens this fortnight.

On Saturday, the sixth-seeded Gauff faced the No. 2-soon-to-be-No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, in the women’s singles final of the US Open with the roof closed on Arthur Ashe Stadium preventatively due to thunderstorms in the area. With speed, power and agility as her allies, Gauff rallied from a set down to beat the shrieking Sabalenka, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, in two hours and six minutes.

Upon securing championship point to win her first US Open title and first major crown, Gauff displayed for everyone to see a variety of emotions. She laughed, she cried, she found her parents and team up in the stands and shared emotional hugs all around. Soon after, she found time to kneel at her bench to say a short prayer and even pulled out her smartphone to talk to her brother back in Florida while waiting for the trophy ceremony to commence.

Gauff became the 10th teenager all-time to win the US Open and first American teenager since Serena Williams achieved the feat at age 17 in 1999.

“Honestly, thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me,” Gauff said during the trophy presentation. “I tried my best to carry this with grace, and I’ve been doing my best. Honestly, those who thought [you] were putting water on my fire were just adding gas to it. And now, I’m burning so bright now.”

Coming in, Gauff sought her first major title and hoped to be the first American to win a US Open singles championship since Sloane Stephens in 2017. Meanwhile, Sabalenka, 25, set to become the new No. 1 player in the world on Monday, won her only Grand Slam title earlier this season at the Australian Open but reached the semifinals in all four majors. The two finalists met most recently at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells back in March, a quarterfinal match won by Sabalenka, 6-4, 6-0.

While Sabalenka went on to win a 1000-series title in Madrid and reached the semifinals at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Gauff struggled throughout much of the clay season, more so than when she was a Roland Garros finalist in 2022, in her only other Grand Slam final. Then, she reached a low point with a first-round loss to fellow American Sofia Kenin at Wimbledon and went home searching for answers to soothe her psyche and to improve her forehand skills. Soon, everything started to look up after Gauff added Brad Gilbert to her team. The longtime, likable ESPN tennis analyst who earlier coached Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick to fame and fortune before Gauff was born, instilled the importance of just having fun on the court while playing tennis in an effort to draw out her personality. Quickly, S her mindset and forehand improved, the tangible results just kept getting better and better.

Since Wimbledon, Gauff has won 18 of her last 19 matches, including a career-best 12 straight. Before capturing the US Open crown, she won the two biggest titles of her budding career, at Washington, D.C. and Cincinnati last month. She improved to 16-0 this summer in the United States. Gauff now leads her career head-to-head with Sabalenka 4-2.

“It means so much to me,” Gauff said during her trophy speech. “I feel like I’m a little bit in shock in this moment. That French Open loss was a heartbreak for me, but I realized God puts you through tribulations and trials, and that makes this moment even sweeter than Imcould imagine.

“My dad took me to this tournament, sitting right there, watching Venus and Serena compete. So, it’s really incredible to be here on this stage.”

By winning the US Open, Gauff collected first-prize money worth $3 million plus 2,000 WTA ranking points. She will move up to No. 3 in the WTA Rankings on Monday after peaking earlier this season at No. 4. She’s already projected as the new No. 1 in doubles with partner Jessica Pegula.

“Thank you, Billie, for fighting for this,” Gauff said in her remarks on the trophy podium, a shout out to Billie Jean King, who pioneered equal pay for the US Open and presented Gauff with the champion’s trophy.

Gauff, appearing in her first US Open final and second major final overall, reached Saturday’s match after defeating Laura Siegemund of Germany, Mirra Andreeva of Russia, Elise Mertens of Belgium, Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia and Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. Before rallying to beat Madison Keys to reach the final, Sabalenka advanced over Maryna Zanevska of Belgium, Jodie Burrage of Great Britain, Clara Burel of France, Daria Kasatkina of Russia and Zheng Qinwen of China.

At a set apiece and looking to rally from a set down for the third time this tournament, Gauff raced to a commanding 4-0 lead in the decisive third  set. Although Sabalenka got one of the breaks back to trail 4-2, a cross-court winner enabled Gauff to regain a double break advantage at 5-2. Looking poised while serving for the victory and Grand Slam title, Gauff jumped out to a 40-love advantage and, finally, closed it out with a well-executed, backhand volleyball passing shot winner. It was her 13th winner of the match that Sabalenka could only lunge at it in desperation. It was a beauty to see, and once it landed to finish off a final 11-shot rally, the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd erupted in a thunderous applause for their new champion. She fell on her back, rose to her feet, hugged Sabalenka, then dropped to her knees and sobbed. Her racquet was still in her hand. Soon, Gauff beamed a smile as she formed a heart with her fingertips.

Gauff took full advantage of six double faults and 46 unforced errors by Sabalenka, whose power became difficult to harness as the match wore on. She broke Sabalenka’s serve five times and outpointed her 83-74.

“Today, I went into this match like it was any other match. I honestly wasn’t nervous going in,” Gauff admitted in her victory news conference. “She was just playing great tennis, and I knew today was going to be one of those problem-solving tough matches because she’s a tough opponent so I’m obviously happy with the result.”

Sabalenka was accepting of her title loss. “It’s a process. We’re all learning,” she said in her post-match news conference while trying to put a positive spin on a disappointing outcome. “I guess it’s lesson for me I will learn and then come back stronger.”

Meanwhile, Gauff was asked if she was ready to be even more in the public eye than before now that she’s both a US Open and major champion. Her answer spoke volumes.

“I mean, I feel like this is a big achievement, but honestly, I feel like I’ve been so used to this since I was basically 15 years old in high school, doing online school, just used to it,” she said. “I mean, I’m sure it might be a much bigger scale now because of this achievement, but I’m ready. I mean, I embrace it. I know how to keep my peace but also embrace all of this around me.

“Yeah, I think the pressure has been a little bit taken off a little bit, and I still am hungry for more. But yeah, I’m just going to enjoy this and try not to look into the future.”

Don’t worry, this kid’s all right – and she’s still smiling.

Danilina and Heliovaara win mixed doubles crown

Imagine winning a Grand Slam title in your first event as a team and beating the top-seeded team. That’s exactly what happened to Kazakhstan’s Anna Danilina and Harri Heliovaara of Finland. On Saturday, Danilina and Heliovaara became the first players from Kazakhstan and Finland to win a US Open mixed doubles title.

Danilina, 28, four-time All-American at the University of Florida, and Heliovaara, 34, who was making just his second Grand Slam mixed doubles appearance, defeated No. 1 seeds Jessica Pegula and Austin Krajicek, both of the United States, 6-3, 6-4, in 72 minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Now, after meeting for the first time two weeks ago when they registered to play mixed doubles, each is a major champion for the first time. They dropped only one set throughout their five matches. It came in their first-round match. From the second round on they won all of their matches in straight sets.

“I have no words,” said Danilina, who is ranked 28th in doubles on the WTA Tour and was playing in her only her second major championship match after reaching the Australian Open women’s doubles final in 2022. “It was an amazing run. I don’t know what to say, it’s been a pleasure. To many more.”

Heliovaara, who is ranked No. 25 in the Pepperstone ATP Doubles Rankings, added: “We stayed here for a long time, three weeks in New York. But it was worth it, every minute. Happy to lift the trophy. … I have to thank my partner. She is the reason we’re standing here. I didn’t know you two weeks ago, but now I know you very well. Thank you very much Anna.”

Around the US Open

By the numbers

Coco Gauff became the fifth American teenager to reach the US Open final in the Open Era, along with Pam Shriver (1978), Tracy Austin (1979 and 1981), Venus Williams (1997), and Serena Williams (1999 and 2001), and the third American teenager to win joining Austin and Serena Williams.

This was Aryna Sabalenka‘s 23rd Grand Slam appearance and second final after winning the Australian Open this year.

“Quotable …”

“They’re the reason why I have this trophy today, to be honest. They have allowed me to believe in this dream, you know, growing up.

“You know, there wasn’t too many just Black tennis players dominating the sport. It was literally, at that time when I was younger, it was just them that I can remember.

“Obviously more came because of their legacy. So it made the dream more believable. But all the things that they had to go through, they made it easier for someone like me to do this.”

– US Open champion Coco Gauff, during her victory news conference on growing up idolizing the Williams sisters and now seeing her name on the champion’s trophy alongside theirs.

“We have played three times this year. Final of a Masters 1000 and two semifinals of a Grand Slam. I’m sure we’re going to play more matches in, you know, in final rounds of big tournaments. So, it’s going to be a good rivalry, I think. Every match that we’ve played, I think we’ve shown great points, great battles. It’s going to be [a] good one.”

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, from his post-match news conference, on his budding rivalry with Daniil Medvedev.