South Florida’s Coco Gauff captures US Open in three sets for first Grand Slam title

Tagged as a future Grand Slam champion when just 15, South Floridian teen Coco Gauff fulfilled that weighty expectation when she won the US Open title on Saturday.

The 19-year-old Delray Beach native rebounded to win her first Grand Slam title 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in 2 hours, 6 minutes at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York.

“South Florida has helped me a lot to prepare for these moments,” Gauff said. “The endurance is there. I can last as long as anybody in the women’s side of the tournament. Probably even maybe some of the men.

“LIke the heat means nothing to me.”

Gauff is the third American teen to win the US Open title. She joins Serena Williams, who captured the trophy in 1999, and Tracy Austin, who won her teen final appearances in 1979 and ’81.

When she struck a final backhand pass winner at 40-0 in the final game, Gauff fell to the court and then was seen crouching with tears flowing down her face. As has become tradition for players, she climbed into the stands where she hugged her father Corey, her mother Candy, and then a host of other family members.

She then hugged her new coach, Brad Gilbert, brought on to the team after Wimbledon, who told her, “You did a good job, I’m so proud of you.”

Sep 7, 2023; Flushing, NY, USA; Coco Gauff of the United States defeats Karolina Muchova of Czech Republic in a women’s singles semifinal on day eleven of the 2023 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Gauff, who will become the highest-ranked American women’s player at No. 3 on Monday, was later seen kneeling by her court-side seat, seemingly in prayer.

“I feel like this is a big achievement, but honestly, I feel like I’ve been so used to this since I was basically 15 years old in high school,” Gauff said. “I embrace it.“I think the pressure has been taken off a little bit, and I still am hungry for more.

“But yeah, I’m just going to enjoy this and try not to look into the future.”

This marked Gauff’s second career Grand Slam final appearance. She failed to secure her first major title in the 2022 French Open championship match, losing to Iga Swiatek.

Sabalenka, who won her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open earlier this year, didn’t leave the US Open without a prize of her own. The 25-year-old will take over the world No. 1 ranking from Swiatek of Poland on Monday.

The final was a battle of Sabalenka’s power vs. Gauff’s court coverage and athleticism. Once Gauff worked out how to contend with Sabalenka’s mighty shots the match turned in the American’s favor.

The crowd of 28,143 spectators, the highest-attended women’s singles match in US Open history, was clearly antsy to offer emotional backing to Gauff. Sabalenka, however, did an excellent job of staying on top of the proceedings through the first set.

“I will say that in the first set I was dealing with my emotions quite good,” Sabalenka said. “I was focused on myself, not on the crowd or the way she move.

”Fans were finally offered a reason to cheer when Sabalenka double-faulted away her serve in the fourth game of the second set, giving the American a 3-1 lead. She held onto the lead to force a decisive third set.

When Gauff made good on a second breakpoint on Sabalenka’s serve in the first game of the third set with a forehand overhead winner the crowd were on their feet and screaming.

Gauff’s first game service break in that third set felt like a momentous occasion and turned out to be all that she needed to earn her stripes as a Grand Slam champion. The difference in Gauff’s game seems tied to her new coaching partnership with Gilbert, a former coach for Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick. Gilbert has been on the team as Gauff won two of her three titles this year at Washington and Cincinnati during the summer. In January, she won the Auckland trophy, which was also on hard courts.

Gilbert’s consistent message for Gauff is to understand that you don’t need to be playing your best tennis to win matches and titles. Playing your B-game effectively also results in victories.Sabalenka went into the match with an impressive 43-13 career winning record against Americans and was 8-1 in the category this season. But she couldn’t increase that record against Gauff on this day in New York.