In the immediate aftermath of her first-round defeat by Sofia Kenin at Wimbledon, as tears streamed down her face, Coco Gauff was not quite ready to reflect on why things had gone so wrong. Instead, she left with a message; she resolved to work even harder than she already had in service of the ambitious goals she set for herself.
It is fair to say that the work is paying off. Since that crushing defeat early in July, Gauff has won 11 of her past 12 matches, her confidence building with every bout, and on Sunday she rose to secure the biggest title of her career, defeating Karolina Muchova 6-3, 6-4 to win the Cincinnati Open title.
Cincinnati marks Gauff’s fifth career WTA title, and after finally attaining her first win against the world No 1 Iga Swiatek in the semi-final on Saturday, this is the No 7 seed’s first WTA 1000 title. After so much discussion and some criticism throughout her career about her progress, potential and forehand, the victory further underlines the 19-year-old’s continued growth.
As they stepped out on to the court in difficult 32C heat, the final represented a significant moment in the career of each player. After her enchanting run to the French Open final, the defining questions of Muchova’s career were whether she could continue to consistently perform at such a high level and if her body would comply. Having reached the final by beating the 12th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia, the 8th seed Maria Sakkari and the No 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, the evidence suggests that she is here to stay.
In the early stages both players were all too aware of the opportunity before them. Their nerves were reflected in a flurry of breaks and loose unforced errors. Despite struggling early on with her serve, Gauff showed the full repertoire of her abilities; her supreme movement and defence making it so difficult for Muchova to consistently hit through her.
Against one of the most varied games on the tour, Gauff also demonstrated her own adaptability and intelligence, effortlessly neutralising the mixture of slices, drop shots and variations of pace thrown at her by the Czech.
After breaking serve for 5-4, Gauff ended a run of three consecutive breaks by confidently serving out the set. With that set under her belt, Gauff settled down. Each time she was threatened in her service games, she inevitably found a big serve or refused to miss as she scuppered the danger.
Gauff broke serve twice to lead 5-2, but presented with an opportunity to serve out the title, she initially balked. Around 10 minutes later, the American nervelessly closed out the biggest triumph of her young career with a love hold and the suggestion that there is much more to come.