Coco Gauff, US Open winner, thanks everyone who doubted her

NEW YORK – The woman who held her heart out to America Saturday always had big dreams. She said this herself on July 1, 2019.

That day, a 15-year-old who had dominated junior tennis made the leap of her life, defeating Venus Williams in the first round of Wimbledon. She then had to clarify in her anonymity that she preferred to use her nickname Coco rather than her first name Cori. She answered the routine question: “How far do you think you can go in this tournament?” without hedging: “I think I can win it.”

She explained that the high school student’s attitude to life is that there is little point in limiting herself.

In the years since, Coco Gauff has nourished her big dreams and amazing talent with hard work, a hunger for improvement, and a solid support system – all the dull, critical components necessary to create shiny, wonderful moments. On Saturday, in front of a deafening crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium, she put everything together to win the US Open and secure her first Grand Slam title. She defeated second seed Aryna Sabalenka 2:6, 6:3, 6:2. on home soil.

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The 19-year-old secured her hardware with a backhand passing shot, and when it landed she fell on her back before getting up to hug her opponent. Then she sank to her knees, her bat in her hand, and sobbed.

Gauff is only the third American teenager to win the US Open, joining Tracy Austin in 1979 and 1981 and Serena Williams in 1999.

As she stood, she pressed her fingertips together to form a heart for the crowd of about 24,000 people. Then she climbed into the stands to hug her parents.

“You managed!” her mother Candi shouted, clutching her daughter.

Her on-site interview a few minutes later was pure madness.

“Can I take the microphone for this?” she asked ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez.

“First of all, thank you to my parents. Today I saw my father cry for the first time. He doesn’t want me to tell you all this, but he was caught in 4K. … I came to this tournament; My father took me to this tournament. [I sat] right there as Venus and Serena compete against each other.

She continued after a pause with applause and further thanks to her team.

“Honestly, thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me. … I tried my best to carry this with grace and I did my best. So whoever thought he was pouring water on my fire was actually pouring gas on the fire. I’m burning so bright right now.”

Gauff’s sense of her own fervor is not misplaced. She was the star of the tournament from the first moment.

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The stadium was prepared for her Saturday with celebrities like Nicole Kidman, Kevin Durant, Diane Keaton and Laverne Cox. The USTA’s presidential suite was packed with former teenage US Open champions – including Maria Sharapova, Monica Seles and Austin. Andy Roddick, the last American to win in New York 20 years ago, was also in the audience.

What they experienced was more than just a newcomer to their ranks. It was an American coronation: Four short years after Gauff announced herself on the sport’s most prestigious stage, she reached the pinnacle of its biggest platform as the new face of U.S. tennis, a year after Serena Williams retired at the same spot .

It doesn’t matter that Sabalenka would be the world No. 1 singles come Monday and Gauff would be No. 3.

Even before her first major title, Gauff was one of the biggest stars in sports in the United States, a celebrity athlete in the Gen-Z package. As the public’s attention grew, she showed a desire to use her platform to talk about social issues and endeared herself to fans by displaying a goofy personality on and off the court. The only question that remained was whether she would win a Grand Slam tournament. Her first attempt, at the French Open in 2022, was a devastating loss to Iga Swiatek.

“I don’t know if they caught the French Open moment on camera, but I saw Iga lift the trophy and I watched her the whole time,” Gauff said of her only appearance in one to date Final. “I said I won’t let her out of my sight because I want to feel what that felt like for her.”

To finally achieve this, she had to prevail against one of the strongest players in women’s tennis and survive under enormous pressure from outside. When she exited Wimbledon with a first-round loss, it was hard to see her as the favorite, prompting Gauff to promise to go back to the drawing board with her approach.

She hired two new coaches, Pere Riba and Brad Gilbert, rediscovered the pure joy of training on a tennis court and found a way to hit her wobbly forehand side with more confidence.

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On August 6, she won the biggest title of her career, a WTA 500, at the DC Open. On August 20, she went one step further and won the WTA 1000-level tournament in Cincinnati, defeating No. 1 Swiatek World who had beaten them seven times, the first time en route to getting there in the semi-finals.

As if by a miracle, Gauff no longer felt any increased pressure, but seemed to go through the situation with dignity. Until the start of the game on Saturday. Gauff prepared for this by reading comments on social media from people claiming she couldn’t live up to her own hype and beat Sabalenka.

“I realize that sometimes people have different personalities and some people should suppress the comments and not look at them,” Gauff said. “But I am an argumentative person. I am very stubborn. My parents know. If they tell me one thing, I’m happy to do the other.”

Things were tense from the start under a closed roof, and thunderstorms were brewing nearby.

The crowd gave Gauff a cheering standing ovation as she walked onto the court, but fell almost silent for perhaps the first time in the entire tournament as she walked to the service line as if everyone was holding their breath.

Gauff reflected the energy of the place. She got off to her shaky start yet with flat, tentative groundstrokes, while Sabalenka grunted with effort on her first swing; The Belarusian seemed to place little value on accuracy and instead placed emphasis on destroying the ball. She would take an error-filled first set if it meant she was playing her high-risk, high-reward game – at least she kept the match on her racket. Gauff was always the one who answered.

Sabalenka won the first set within 40 minutes.

In the second period, Sabalenka’s mistakes became more serious as she began making them in bigger moments.

With Gauff serving at deuce and leading 3-1, Sabalenka sent it wide to the backhand side and Gauff managed a floater back that landed in front of Sabalenka’s forehand – but instead of scoring a clean winner, Sabalenka sent the ball into the net.

A point later, Sabalenka had another chance, but instead of capitalizing on Gauff’s second serve, she hit a long return to give her young opponent a 4-1 lead and commit her 25th unforced error.

Feeling emboldened at the time, Gauff played out the set, driving Sabalenka from side to side with confident groundstrokes and then moving into the net – a use of her strengths, something she hadn’t felt comfortable enough to do at the start of the match – to score the set ball. She tied the game when Sabalenka sent a forehand wide.

After Gauff had settled in, they went into battle. Gauff’s winning numbers rose and she took a 4-0 lead as the crowd headed for disaster, now certain of the outcome.

When she finally won, Gauff realized she could never have imagined the flood of emotions that would flood her as she watched Swiatek lift the trophy in 2022. The relief that she had finally won a Grand Slam was only part of it.

“It’s not the biggest emotion. I think it’s honestly the smallest and I think that was the difference between the French Open and now. … Maybe if I had won this title, that would have been the greatest feeling, more than happiness, more than excitement,” Gauff said. “At the moment I just feel happiness and a very, very small bit of relief. Because honestly, at that point, I was doing it for myself and not for anyone else.”

How far did Gauff think she could go in the tournament? She thought she could win it. Coco Gauff, US Open winner, thanks everyone who doubted her

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