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

It’s Sunday evening, a little after 6 p.m., 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 afterward.

Two other American tennis stars, Frances Tiafoe and Ben Shelton, who are among his close friends, are also there. Tiafoe closes after her fourth-round victory at the US Open, which set up her all-American quarterfinal match against Shelton, who is preparing to play a mixed doubles match. The friendly trash talk has started and Gauff can’t help but get involved. She knows exactly how to do it.

Tiafoe, who spends a lot of time shirtless and doesn’t lack confidence when it comes to his rippling physique, and Shelton is playing this tournament in brightly colored sleeveless shirts. Shelton looks better in his, Gauff told Tiafoe.

And by the way, Carlos Alcaraz, the world number 1, who beat Tiafoe in the semi-finals of the Open last year and who also plays in sleeveless Technicolor, does the same. “You’re wearing confetti,” Gauff says.

She then goes off to brag about having taken over one of the princes of the tournament and to make fun of her sixty-year-old coach’s penchant for the Jolly Ranchers and the dad-rock tunes that he keeps sending it to him. She also gets to pose for the endless series of selfies that so many people, especially Gen Z fans, desperately want as their ultimate compliment.

“My queen,” they say of her.

In the quarterfinals on Tuesday, the sixth seed Gauff will face 20th seed Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia, who eliminated top seed Iga Swiatek in their previous match. If Gauff wins, she will still have to fight her way through two more high-pressure matches to win the tournament. But more than a week into the final Grand Slam tournament of the year, one thing has become clear: Gauff, at 19, is the queen of this US Open.

Fans rush across the field to their seats at Arthur Ashe Stadium before its singles matches. No one wants to miss their first “Come on!” » or one of his ball-chasing points that go from corner to corner, from the backcourt to the net and back again, and increasingly ending with an overhead smash or sending the ball by his opponent into the net.

First-come, first-come seats on small courts with general access start to fill up well in advance her and her doubles partner, Jessica Pegula, take the court. Organizers moved their doubles match Monday to Ashe when space became available late in the afternoon. They won.

NBA player Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat is one of the many bold names who have come forward for his games. Others include singer Justin Bieber and his wife, Hailey, a model and influencer. They were home Friday for Gauff wins third round against Elise Mertens. Butler was there too and returned on Sunday for her fourth-round victory over Caroline Wozniacki.

Gauff’s reaction: “Again?

Perhaps this was the way things were always going to work out for Gauff, who at age 10 earned a coveted spot in the tennis academy training program of Patrick Mouratoglou, who coached Serena Williams.

Like everyone who saw Gauff on the pitch at the time, Mouratoglou came away impressed with her early speed, power and ability to change direction in an instant and make a quality shot. He called her into his office for an interview, to which he interviews all his prospects, and asked her why she thought she could become a top player. She had seemed shy on the field, but now she looked him in the eyes from start to finish of their conversation and told him she wanted him more than any other girl.

A lot of players say that, Mouratoglou said in an interview on Monday. He began putting her on the court in matches against players more advanced than her in their development. More often than not, she found a way to win.

At age 13, she reached the final of the US Open junior tournament. At 15, she beat Venus Williams on Center Court at Wimbledon and reached the fourth round.

“She’s 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 succeed, that you can be in the spotlight but you like having that pressure , the pressure she feels. that she has had since she was a child.

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

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

She was not yet 19, but she was about to begin her fifth season of high-level tennis. Her mother told her to be patient, that she didn’t yet have “the strength of a grown woman” and that she would know when she had it.

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

Some might disagree with this assessment. Three years ago, when she was 16, Gauff 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 your platform is, you have to use your voice,” she told the crowd that day. “I saw a quote from Dr. King that said, ‘The silence of good people is worse than the brutality of bad people.’ We must not remain silent.

This summer, she was one of the featured players at the Citi Open in Washington DC. She had experienced disappointing results in the previous two months, losing to Swiatek for the seventh consecutive time at Roland Garros in the quarterfinals and losing first. Wimbledon tour.

But the role of headliner at a mid-sized tournament comes with some responsibilities. Mark Ein, the owner of the Citi Open, watched as Gauff chatted with VIPs, including a member of President Biden’s cabinet and a Supreme Court justice, as if it was business as usual. Then she went out and won the tournament, and Ein felt there was something different about the teenager who first played in her event in 2019.

“She gave off that feeling of being in control, both on and off the field,” Ein said. “Every generation in tennis there seems to be someone who succeeds very early, and the test is how to deal with that. The greatest of all time seem to have a composure that allows you to succeed.”

Since 2019, Gauff’s face has never been difficult to find on the noticeboards of the tournaments in which she participates. Yet his management team at Team8, the boutique agency Roger Federer created with his longtime agent Tony Godsick, has tried to take a slow and steady approach.

It could have agreements with dozens of companies. So far, its portfolio beyond the usual racquet and apparel sponsors New Balance and Head includes only Rolex, Bose, Barilla, Baker Tilly and UPS.

Gauff still sometimes sways when she speaks in public. She will laugh at herself in the middle of a sentence. It will still take him more than a year to legally order a drink in the United States.

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

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