This year’s US Open belongs to Coco Gauff, win or lose

This year’s US Open belongs to Coco Gauff, win or lose

It’s Sunday evening, just after six o’clock, and Coco Gauff is going through her post-match routine in the section of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center where players warm up before matches and cool down after.

There are also two other American tennis stars, Frances Tiafoe and Ben Shelton, who are among her close friends. Tiafoe is coming off a US Open fourth-round win, which set up the all-American’s quarterfinal match against Shelton, who is set to play a mixed doubles match. The friendly trivial conversation has begun, and Jove can’t resist joining in. She knows just how to do it.

Tiafoe, who spends a lot of time shirtless and lacks confidence when it comes to his rippling physique, and Shelton are playing this tournament in bright, sleeveless shirts. Gauff tells Tiafoe that Shelton looks better in character.

Incidentally, so does world number one Carlos Alcaraz, who beat Tiafoe in the Open semifinals last year and who also plays in sleeveless Technicolor. “You’re wearing confetti,” says Goff.

Then she goes on to boast that she’s bested one of the tournament’s princes and mocks her 60-year-old coach’s fondness for Jolly Ranchers and the rock tunes he keeps sending her. She also has to take an endless series of selfies that many, especially Gen Z fans, want so badly when they pay her their ultimate compliment.

They call her “my queen.”

In the quarterfinals on Tuesday, Gauff will face sixth-seeded Jelena Ostapenko, seeded 20th of Latvia, who beat top-seeded Iga Swiatek in her previous match. If Gauff wins, she will still have to find her way through two more pressure-packed matches to win the tournament. But a week after the last Grand Slam event of the year, one thing is clear: Gauff, 19, is the queen of the US Open.

Fans rush across the courts to get to their seats at Arthur Ashe Stadium before its singles matches. No one wants to miss her first fist pumping “Come on!” Or one of the points of chasing the ball that moves from corner to corner, from the backcourt to the net and back again, increasingly ending with her hitting a powerful shot or her opponent sending the ball into the net.

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First-come, first-served seats at smaller courts with general admission begin filling up long before she and her doubles partner, Jessica Pegula, arrive on court. Organizers moved Monday’s doubles match to Ashe when the space was cleared in the late afternoon. They won.

NBA player Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat is one of the many bold names who have graced her game. Others include singer Justin Bieber and his wife, Hailey, a model and influencer. They were at home on Friday for Gauff’s third-round win over Elise Mertens. Butler also attended and came back to win a fourth-round win over Caroline Wozniacki on Sunday.

Goff’s reaction: “Again?”

Perhaps that’s the way things have always been for Gauff, who at the age of 10 secured a coveted place on the training program at the tennis academy of Patrick Mouratoglou, who was coaching Serena Williams.

Like anyone who saw Gauff on the court at the time, Mouratoglou came away impressed by her early speed, power and ability to change direction in an instant and execute a quality shot. He called her into his office for an interview, something he put all his expectations into, and asked her why she thought she could become a top-level player. She had seemed shy in court, but now she looked him in the eye from the beginning of their conversation to the end, and told him she wanted this more than any other girl.

A lot of players say that,” Mouratoglou said in an interview on Monday. He started putting her on the court in matches against players who were more advanced in their development than her. And more often than not, I found a way to win.

“She is ready for greatness,” Mouratoglou said. “Of course, she feels pressure like everyone else, but the difference comes from believing that you belong there, that you’re supposed to do well, that you may be in the spotlight but you enjoy that pressure, the pressure that she feels. She has since She was a child.

Living under this scrutiny, especially when achieving early success, can have its advantages and disadvantages. Women’s tennis over the past decade has been full of players who won a Grand Slam tournament in their late teens or early 20s, then struggled over the following year to win three tournament matches.

During her first seasons on the tour, Gauff was impatient to reach the top, given her success at Wimbledon in 2019 and reaching the French Open final last year. Before this season, she spent some time studying top 10 players and recent Grand Slam winners. She saw that many of them peaked between the ages of 22 and 26.

She wasn’t 19 yet, but she was about to begin her fifth season of top-level tennis. Her mother told her to be patient, because she had not yet acquired “the strength of a mature woman,” and said she would know when she would have it.

“I think I’m not as mature as the other players,” she said one afternoon in Australia. “That will come with life on Earth, not the number of years you spend on the tour.”

Some may disagree with this assessment. Three years ago, when Gauff was 16, she took the microphone at a Black Lives Matter rally in her hometown, Delray Beach, Florida, days after the killing of George Floyd.

“No matter how big or small your platform is, you need to use your voice,” she told the audience that day. “I saw a quote by Dr. King that said, ‘The silence of good people is worse than the brutality of bad people.’ We should not be silent.”

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This summer, she was one of the featured players at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. She has suffered some disappointing results in the past two months, losing to Swiatek for the seventh straight time at the French Open in the quarterfinals and exiting in the quarterfinals. Wimbledon Tour.

But the role of lead leader in a mid-sized tournament comes with some responsibilities. Citi Open champion Mark Ihne watched Goff speak with dignitaries, including a member of President Biden’s cabinet and a Supreme Court justice, as if it were business as usual. Then she went out and won the tournament, and Ain sensed there was something different about the teenager who played in his own event for the first time in 2019.

“She gave that feeling that she was in control, both on and off the field,” Ayne said. “In every generation in tennis, there seems to be someone who excels at a very young age, and the test is how you handle it. The all-time greats seem to have the composure that allows them to succeed.

Since 2019, it has never been difficult to find Gauff’s face on the billboards of any tournament she plays in. However, her management team at Team8, the boutique agency that Roger Federer started with his long-time agent, Tony Godsick, has tried to take a slow and steady approach.

It can make deals with dozens of companies. So far, its portfolio, beyond the usual racket and apparel sponsors New Balance and Head, includes only Rolex watches, Bose, Barilla, Baker Tilly and UPS.

Gauff still sometimes sways back and forth when she speaks publicly. She’ll laugh to herself mid-sentence. She still has more than a year before she can legally order a drink in the United States.

If she loses to Ostapenko on Tuesday or someone else in the coming days, time will be on her side for a long time. But in many ways, its time has come.

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