Sport

US OPEN WOMEN’S FINAL

Coco Gauff burns bright after being crowned the new queen of tennis

Coco Gauff burns bright after being crowned the new queen of tennis
Coco Gauff of the United States celebrates with the trophy after defeating Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in their Women's Singles Final match on Day 13 of the 2023 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on 9 September 2023 in the Flushing neighbourhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photos: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

Coco Gauff mounted a fierce comeback to beat second-seed Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka 2-6 6-3 6-2 in the US Open women’s final on Saturday.

US tennis crowned a new queen and US Open champion on Saturday as Coco Gauff beat Aryna Sabalenka in the Flushing Meadows final to claim her first Grand Slam and ascend the throne left vacant by Serena Williams. 

Gauff was the first teenager to play in a US Open final since Williams in 2001, so there was symmetry to the moment. She rallied to beat the second-seeded Belarusian 2-6 6-3 6-2 and end a six-year barren stretch for US tennis fans, who were finally able to celebrate a homegrown champion. 

“I am so happy I could make this country proud,” said Gauff as chants of “USA, USA” rang out behind her. 

US women have been on the rise in recent years, moving into the top 10 and winning tournaments, but since Williams played her last match on Arthur Ashe in 2022 the US has been without a standard bearer — until now. 

Gauff, who as a young girl said she had dreamt of becoming the next Serena Williams, is now the undisputed face of US tennis, with many predicting she will become the world’s top-ranked player with a trophy case packed with Grand Slam titles. 

“Congratulations to US Open champion, @CocoGauff! We couldn’t be prouder of you on and off the court – and we know the best is yet to come,” posted former US President Barack Obama on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. 

Still just 19 years old, Gauff has matured under an unforgiving sporting spotlight as a player and a person. 

The finished product was on display on Saturday as Gauff defused Sabalenka’s power with speed and tenacity, running down ball after ball, and then acknowledging her success with grace. 

“That little girl, like she had the dream, but I don’t know if she fully believed it,” said Gauff. “As a kid, you have so many dreams. As you get older, sometimes it can fiddle away. I would tell her, don’t lose that dream.” 

Impressive 

As impressive as Gauff is on the court, she is no less so away from tennis.

Immediately after her win, Gauff’s first reaction after lifting herself off the court and wiping away tears of joy was to search the stands for her parents, who used to bring her to New York as a young girl to watch her idols on the same court. 

The charismatic teen also possesses a sharp social awareness and a delightful sense of humour, all of which are going to make her very rich as sponsors rush to her door. 

When climate activists interrupted her semifinal, causing an hour-long delay, Gauff later showed no animosity, saying she believed that climate change was real. 

The US Open this year celebrated Billie Jean King and the 50th anniversary of the fight for equal pay, and Gauff playfully acknowledged the struggle when accepting the trophy. 

“Thank you Billie Jean for fighting for this,” said Gauff waving a $3-million winner’s cheque. 

Gauff has long been tipped for greatness. 

A top junior, she was presented with the key to her city of Delray Beach at just 14 and burst on to the world scene a year later when she beat another of her idols, Venus Williams, at Wimbledon. 

Progress as a professional has been steady but not always at the pace some demanded. 

Last year she made her Grand Slam breakthrough, reaching the final of the French Open, but losing. Then at this year’s Wimbledon, she hit a low with a first-round loss that left her feeling that the dream had ended for her. 

“It’s been difficult, it’s been a long journey to this point,” Gauff said. “I wasn’t a fully developed player, and I still think I have a lot of development to go at that moment. 

“I think people were putting a lot of pressure on me to win. Now I just realise that I just need to go out there and try my best.” 

Renewed focus and the return home for the hard court season brought a change of form and motivation. 

Since the Wimbledon loss, Gauff has won 18 of 19 matches including the US Open, Cincinnati Open and Washington. 

“Thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me,” sixth-seed Gauff told a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium that backed her from the moment she appeared out of the tunnel. “A month ago, I won a 500 [level] title and people said I would stop at that. 

“Two weeks ago, I won a 1,000 title and people were saying that was the biggest it was going to get. So, three weeks later, I’m here with this trophy right now. 

“I tried my best to carry this with grace and I have been doing my best, and honestly to those who thought they were putting water on my fire, you were really adding gas to it and now I am burning so bright.” DM

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