Coco Gauff reaches her final U.S. Open test — the best player in the world

NEW YORK — As the extended rally though the heavy late summer air continued, from the 10th shot, to the 15th, 20th, and eventually even a 40th, Coco Gauff figured that if she could somehow pull this one out, her first career trip to a U.S. Open final was all but assured.

Her chance to put it away came when Karolina Muchova’s attempted drop shot wasn’t deceptive or evasive enough. Gauff charged in and smacked a forehand winner, earning her a thundering ovation and, more importantly, a sixth match point after she squandered the first five. Gauff won that one, too, when Muchova’s backhand fluttered past the baseline, punching her ticket for Saturday’s women’s final with a 6-4, 7-5 victory.

“When you’re, like, 20 shots into the rally, it’s tough to go for a winner sometimes because you’re not as fresh on energy and everything as before,” Gauff said. “I knew I had the legs and the lungs to outlast her in the rally, it was whether I had the mentality and patience to do it.

“After 10 or 15 shots in, I was, like, well, this is going to change the match. I knew that if I could win that rally, I felt like that next match point was going to go my way, because I don’t think she could have (done) back-to-back rallies like that. I knew that next match point, if I were to win, she was definitely going to go for a winner, or miss. That’s what happened.”

Gauff will now face Aryna Sabalenka, who defeated Madison Keys in the other semifinal late Thursday night/early Friday morning in a memorable comeback, 0-6, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5).

Early on, it didn’t look like Gauff’s match would be all that competitive. The 19-year-old American took command, breaking Muchova twice and jumping out to a 5-1 first-set lead. But Muchova, the 10th-ranked player in the world, found her game and nearly came all the way back, breaking Gauff twice and earning the chance to tie the set at 5-5 on her serve.

Instead, Gauff won four straight points, capturing the set when Muchova flubbed a backhand.

The second set wasn’t any easier, and it wasn’t just because Muchova was striking the ball better. The match was delayed by 50 minutes just after Gauff won the first game on her serve, as climate protestors caused a commotion in the second level of Arthur Ashe Stadium.

After similar protestors disrupted other tournaments this year, including Wimbledon, Gauff said she had a feeling that they would make their presence known at the U.S. Open at some point, too. And although she sympathizes with their cause, saying that she believes in climate change and “there are things we can do better” in terms of the environment, Gauff added: “Would I prefer it not happening in my match? One hundred percent, yeah. I’m not gonna sit here and lie. But, it is what it is.”

She continued: “It was done in a peaceful way, so I can’t get too mad at it. Obviously, I don’t want it to happen when I’m winning, up 6-4, 1-0. I wanted the momentum to keep going. But hey, if that’s what they felt they needed to do to get their voices heard, I can’t really get upset at it.”

Muchova, in a hole at the time, used the unexpected respite to collect herself.

“I tried to take it as a positive,” she said. “I could talk to my coaches. They were trying to wake me up. I think after the break I actually played a little bit better, but it was not enough to (beat) Coco.”

After they exchanged multiple holds coming out of the delay, Gauff eventually broke Muchova to take a 5-3 second-set lead, but Muchova broke her right back in the next game, fighting off the first of six match points she would face.

Muchova had a chance to force a tiebreak later in the set, serving at 5-6, but instead, it was Gauff who finally put the Czech native away in a game that featured that lengthy rally, three deuces and five more match points.

Gauff, who has now won her last two matches in straight sets after going the distance in three of her first four here, said she was proud of how she’s handled the tournament so far, tuning out all of the noise that inevitably comes with every Grand Slam.

“I have been focusing more on myself and my expectations of myself,” she said. “Not going on social media or listening to people who believe that I can, or believe that I can’t. I really believe that now I have the maturity and ability to do it. Regardless of what happens on Saturday, I’m really proud of how I have been handling the last few weeks.”

Aryna Sabalenka was down 0-6, 3-5 to Madison Keys before rallying for an improbable victory. She’s going for her second Grand Slam title of the year. (Corey Sipkin / AFP via Getty Images)

If Gauff is to end the 13-Slam title drought for U.S. women’s tennis — the Americans’ longest in singles since the early 1990s — she will have to overcome perhaps her toughest challenge yet. Sabalenka, who lost the first set at love to Keys before winning tiebreaks in the second and third fairly easily, is already set to become the No. 1 ranked woman in the world after the tournament, leapfrogging Iga Świątek.

Like Gauff, she will also be in her first U.S. Open final. The 25-year-old Belarusian, who won the Australian Open earlier this year to pick up her first Grand Slam title and has made at least the semifinals in all four majors this year, has faced Gauff five times in her career — with Gauff winning three of them.

In their most recent meeting, though, Sabalenka won 6-4, 6-0 in the quarterfinals at Indian Wells — another American hard court — in March.

But since that meeting, Gauff has “improved a lot,” Sabalenka said. “So, it’s a different player.”

Sabalenka continued: “She’s moving really well. She’s hungry. She kind of like (has) nothing to lose. She knows that (the) crowd (is) going to support her. … Also, serving really well.”

And, as evidenced by that mid-rally confidence late in her match on Thursday, Gauff is feeling good about herself, too.

“I’m just really proud of myself today,” Gauff said.



Who is Ben Shelton? Meet the U.S. Open’s new American phenom

(Top photo: Elsa / Getty Images)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top