NEW YORK (AP) — Coco Gauff is still a teenager, after all, and so it should surprise no one that she was scrolling through social media on her cellphone, up until 10 minutes before heading out to Arthur Ashe Stadium for the 2023 U.S. Open final.
What the 19-year-old from Florida said she was reading various negative comments: “[They were] saying I wasn’t going to win today; that just put the fire in me.”
A professional athlete from a young age, Gauff has been expected to win by some — and doubted by others. Gauff has always taken it all in and kept moving forward, trying to learn from each setback. And now, at a tournament she used to visit as a kid to see her idols Venus and Serena Williams, Gauff is a Grand Slam champion herself.
And a certified star.
Setting aside a so-so start that Saturday, Gauff surged to a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over the soon-to-be number one-ranked Aryna Sabalenka in the final at Arthur Ashe Stadium, delighting the raucous crowd that had backed her from beginning to end.
When Gauff walked into her news conference with phone in hand, (naturally), she noted the big screen on the back wall had photos of her from the match. She then tucked the U.S. Open Women’s Singles Championship Trophy under one arm, and used her other hand to snap a selfie with the images of her victory in the background.
“Right now I’m just feeling happiness and a very, very small bit of relief,” she said. “Because honestly, at this point, I was doing it for myself and not for other people.”
Gauff, a Floridian, is the first American teenager to win the U.S. Open since Serena Williams won back in 1999. If last year’s U.S. Open was all about saying goodbye to Williams as she competed for the last time, this year’s fortnight in New York turned into a “Welcome to the big time!” moment for Gauff.
Former President Barack H. Obama was among the famous and well-wishers admiring Gauff’s game play. Gauff and her parents also received a congratulatory phone call from President Joe Biden on Saturday.
Mr. Biden was at the G20 (Group of 20) Summit in New Delhi, India.
Gauff burst onto the scene at age fifteen, becoming the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history and making it into the fourth round in her Grand Slam debut in 2019.
She reached her first major tournament final at last year’s French Open, finishing in a stinging loss as the runner-up to Iga Swiatek. “I watched Iga lift up that trophy, and I watched her the whole time,” Gauff recalled. “I said, ‘I’m not going to take my eyes off her, because I want to feel what that felt like for her.’”
The No. 6-seeded Gauff did it Saturday by withstanding the power displayed by Sabalenka on nearly every swing of her racket, eventually getting accustomed to it and managing to get back shot after shot. Gauff broke to begin the third set on one such point, tracking down every ball hit her way until eventually smacking a putaway volley that she punctuated with a fist pump and a scream of “Come on!”
Soon it was 4-0 in that set for Gauff. Didn’t take long for her to close it out, then drop to her back on the court, before climbing into the stands to find her parents. “You did it!” Gauff’s mom told her, both women in tears.
In addition to her trophy, Gauff was handed an envelope with the champion’s $3 million paycheck. This is the 50th anniversary of when the 1973 U.S. Open became the first major sports event to pay women and men equal prize money; the person who led that effort, Hall of Fame player and equal rights advocate Billie Jean King, was on hand Saturday.
“Thank you, Billie,” Gauff said, “for fighting for this.”
Winners by Gauff were celebrated as if the match were over. So were Sabalenka’s miscues; by the end, she had 46 unforced errors, while Gauff only had 19 — ironically, her age. She only needed 13 winners to accumulate 83 points.
“Sometimes, I can get emotional,” Sabalenka said. “Today on the court, I was overthinking and I was missing balls I shouldn’t be missing.”
When Sabalenka has everything calibrated just right, it’s difficult for any foe to handle it — even someone as speedy, smart and instinctive as Gauff, whose get-to-every-ball court coverage kept points alive. She credited Gauff’s superb defense — “definitely, she was moving just unbelievable” and “I always had to play like an extra ball” — but also thought many mistakes were “more about me than her. I lost this match.”
When Sabalenka was on-target early, she dominated. During a four-game run to close the opening set, one thrilling point had the audience making noise before it was over. Sabalenka raised her left hand and wagged her fingers, telling spectators to give her some love.
But soon, Gauff was playing better, while Sabalenka was off-target more, and the love was being showered only on one of them — the sport’s newest Grand Slam champion. “[Gauff has] Many more to come,” Sabalenka said grudgingly, “I’m pretty sure.”
Gauff’s maturity on and off-court comportment should help her now more than ever.
“I have just been embracing every positive and negative thing that’s said about me. I realize sometimes people have different personalities and some people need to shut off the comments and not look at them. But I’m an argumentative person. I’m very stubborn,” said Gauff, who chatted with her boyfriend until 1 a.m. the night before the biggest match of her career, thus far. “My parents know: If they tell me one thing, I like to do the other.”
Spoken like a true teen tennis titan.
The Significance of Coco Gauff’s Victory
Coco Gauff’s victory at the U.S. Open holds immense significance for the world of tennis. Not only did she become the youngest U.S. Open winner since Serena Williams, but she also broke numerous records and barriers along the way.
Gauff’s win has reaffirmed the notion that age is just a number when it comes to talent and determination. Her remarkable feat serves as an inspiration for young athletes worldwide, proving that with hard work and perseverance, anything is possible.
Moreover, Gauff’s victory highlights the importance of diversity in the sport. As a young African-American player, she represents a new generation of tennis stars who are breaking down barriers and challenging long-standing stereotypes. Gauff’s success sends a powerful message of inclusivity and paves the way for future athletes from underrepresented backgrounds.
In the next section, we will explore the impact of Gauff’s win on the tennis community, analyzing the reactions from fellow players, coaches, and fans alike. Stay tuned to discover how Gauff’s triumph has sparked a newfound sense of excitement and optimism in the sport.
Paving the Way for a New Generation of Tennis Champions
Coco Gauff’s historic win at the U.S. Open has sparked enthusiasm and hope in the tennis community. As news of her victory spread, fellow players, coaches, and fans alike were quick to express their admiration and support for the young champion.
Gauff’s win has opened doors for a new generation of tennis players, particularly young girls who are aspiring to make their mark in the sport. Her success has shown them that age is not a barrier and that with dedication and determination, they too can achieve greatness.
Coaches and trainers are now reevaluating their approach to nurturing young talent, recognizing the importance of providing opportunities for players like Gauff to develop and thrive. There is a renewed focus on creating a supportive and inclusive environment that allows young athletes to reach their full potential.
Fans worldwide have been captivated by Gauff’s journey, with social media flooded with messages of inspiration and support. Her win has invigorated the tennis community, sparking a renewed excitement for the sport and fueling the belief that more young champions like Gauff are on the horizon.
In the final section of this blog series, we will explore the long-term impact of Gauff’s victory and how it will shape the future of women’s tennis. Stay tuned to discover how this young star will continue to make waves in the world of sports.
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Howard Fendrich defiled the original version of this article.