They’re growing fast these days, and none faster than Coco Gauff.
At the beginning of July, she was a fragile tennis teenager who was perhaps headed for the sport’s wilderness, struggling to answer questions about how someone who had seemed so precocious, so destined for greatness, could still wait for her great moment.
In September, she is a finalist at the US Open, a star attraction at her home Grand Slam tournament and a new face of her sport in America.
Gauff, the 19-year-old wonderkid from scorching South Florida, beat Czech Karolina Muchova 6-4, 7-5 to reach her first US Open singles final on a hot, sultry evening Thursday at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Muchova’s all-court play and the weirdest atmospheres tested her like never before, but in the end, the evening went her way.
Gauff was in control of the game when a climatic protest at the start of the second set caused a nearly 50-minute delay as New York police and security officials struggled to eject protesters, one of whom had used tape to stick his feet on the concrete. one of the upper levels of the stadium.
At the time of the break, Gauff held a 6-4, 1-0 lead and was playing as well as she needed to take advantage of a seemingly tight Muchova, who played the game with a black compression sleeve covering her arm. right from his biceps to his wrist.
During the delay, Gauff and Muchova left the field and tried to stay free in the locker room and the warm-up area. Muchova got a massage and ran lightly down the hallway outside the locker room. Gauff, seemingly relaxed, walked over to a United States Tennis Association employee and leaned over to see photos of the protesters circulating on social media.
The delay ended a crowd of nearly 24,000 fans who arrived ready to celebrate a new queen of American tennis a year after watching Serena Williams play her last match, signaling the end of an era for American tennis.
Over the past four years, Gauff has become the most likely contender to fill the void, having a blast at Wimbledon when she was 15 and reaching the French Open final last year. Since then, however, her progress seems to have stalled, particularly on the big stages, and she is yet to progress beyond the quarter-finals of the US Open, the tournament where the spotlight shines on her more than anywhere else.
Two months ago this run, and a championship that is now one game away, didn’t seem possible, but on Thursday night Gauff showed all the reasons why it suddenly was. She has long had many of the tools needed to join the sport’s elite: a dangerous serve, a tough backhand, and the speed and athleticism that combine to provide the best coverage of the pitch in women’s football.
Over the past five weeks, she’s learned to use those tools, stabilizing the fragile forehand that was her nemesis. Against Muchova, she mixed power forehands with looping forehands, and she hammered her serves while cutting some into the corners. She cut the backhand and loaded the net. She took control of the points and rallied behind Muchova until the Czech star obliterated them. She got her first match point on a feathered drop shot.
Gauff faltered midway through the first set, losing three straight after taking a 5-1 lead as Muchova punched and pushed Gauff on her heels. She lost her serve once again as she tried to close the match at 5-3 in the second half.
It would take him three more plays, an extra break on Muchova’s serve, five more match points, an almost endless and jaw-dropping rally, and one final error from Muchova, and finally the evening would be his.