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NY Post
New York Post
9 Sep 2023

NextImg:Coco Gauff riding high as she sets sights on first Grand Slam title at US Open

On Saturday, 19-year-old Coco Gauff will become the youngest American to play in the U.S. Open final since 1999.

It’s easy to forget her tender age until she highlights it by saying she watches hours of anime before a big match.

But Gauff has a maturity that belies her youth, with preternatural play, a seasoned game, consciousness on social issues and wisdom that has come without age.

She has shown an ability to dismiss distractions and ignore outside noise — be it paparazzi or the 50-minute delay during her semifinal win Thursday after a barefoot protestor glued himself to the Arthur Ashe Stadium concrete.

And now Gauff finally has started to believe in herself as much as others believe in her.

The rise in her confidence is glaring as she has gone from a 2022 French Open final loss to top-ranked Iga Swiatek to being the favorite in the U.S. Open final against Aryna Sabalenka, who win or lose Saturday will replace Swiatek as World No. 1 on Monday morning.

“Yeah, playing that [French Open] match, the whole tournament felt like a surprise to me,” Gauff admitted. “I wasn’t expecting the final here either. But I just think then I was really just relieved that I made it to a final because so many people expected a lot of things from me. I just didn’t really believe that I had it in me, especially at the time playing Iga, who was on a winning streak.

“But this time around, I’ve been focusing more on myself and my expectations of myself, not going on social media or listening to people who believe that I can or believe that I can’t. So I’ve just been really focusing on myself. I really believe that now I have the maturity and ability to do it. Regardless of what happens on Saturday, I’m really proud of how I’ve been handling the last few weeks.”

Coco Gauff reacts after she defeats Carolina Muchova in straight sets as they play the women’s single semifinal.
Annie Wermiel/NY Post

Those weeks — now going on months — have been brilliant.

“My team has prepared me the same way as they have every match,” Gauff told The Post. “So I’m just going to go out there and try my best to execute the game plan.”

After a disappointing first-round loss at Wimbledon in July, Gauff added Brad Gilbert to her team.

He has helped make her play more confident and loose.

And Gauff has gone on a 17-1 run, with titles in Washington and Cincinnati, that has surprised even her.

“Oh, 100 percent,” Gauff admitted. “Yeah, definitely after Wimbledon, I wasn’t expecting to do well honestly in this hard court season, so I’m really proud of the way I’ve been able to turn this season around. Honestly when I had that [loss] at Wimbledon I was really thinking for offseason and preparing for next year.

“I still think I have a lot to improve, but yeah, 100 percent I wasn’t thinking those results would happen. Even after D.C., didn’t think this would happen. Even after Cincy, didn’t think this would happen. I’m really proud of myself. And like I said, there’s still a long ways to go; I think I can improve a lot. But how I’ve been able to manage with the game I have now is something that I’m happy with.”

Gauff has been happier overall, not heaping as much pressure on her slight shoulders from moment to moment, match to match.

Coco Gauff returns a volley against Carolina Muchova as they play the women's single semifinal on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Coco Gauff returns a volley against Carolina Muchova as they play the women’s single semifinal on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Annie Wermiel/NY Post

She’s not tying her self-worth to victories or even to tennis, something she credits her parents with.

Saturday afternoon she’ll put that growth on display against Sabalenka, to whom she lost 6-4, 6-0 in the Indian Wells quarterfinals this past March.

“Honestly I’d say that she [has] played much better than in that match,” Sabalenka said. “She improved a lot, so it’s a different player. We don’t really thinking about that match. Going into this final, I just have to focus on myself and prepare myself for another fight.”

Tennis experts have noted Gauff’s ability to fight and to win ugly, which is Gilbert’s mantra.

It’s a further sign of her maturation as she ascends to superstardom in the sport.

It’s fitting that the teen spent hours before her semifinal watching popular underdog superhero anime, “My Hero Academia.”

Coco Gauff returns a volley against Carolina Muchova

Coco Gauff returns a volley against Carolina Muchova.
Annie Wermiel/NY Post

It’s about a boy who inherits powers going to school to become the world’s strongest hero.

Gauff has put all her superpowers on display this summer.

The world will get to see them on Saturday.