US Open: Teenage sensation Coco Gauff believes she has the ‘maturity’ to win her first Grand Slam… but world No. 1 in waiting Aryna Sabalenka will provide her sternest test yet
- Coco Gauff admitted she was ‘relieved’ to make the French Open final in 2022
- But the American star is looking to go one further in the US Open on Saturday
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The yearning for Coco Gauff to claim her maiden Grand Slam title on Saturday will stretch even further than across the wide expanses of American tennis.
After several days of off-court embarrassment for the women’s game, nothing would provide a more timely tonic than for a charismatic new champion to emerge, representing the sport’s most significant market.
This week the WTA Tour finally announced a venue for its year-end championships being held at the end of October. The lateness of Cancun’s unveiling drew sharp criticism, as did the fact that it is seven time zones away from the Billie Jean King Cup team finals, which follow immediately afterwards.
The crowning of the hugely popular 19 year-old at Flushing Meadows would swiftly eclipse both that and the shenanigans of oil protesters, who held up her semi-final victory over Karolina Muchova for 49 minutes.
It would also add an important counterweight to the current dominance of players from Eastern Europe, who have swept up the last six Majors between them.
Coco Gauff has a chance to capture her first Grand Slam on Saturday vs. Aryna Sabalenka
Sabalenka recovered from a 0-6 first set vs. Madison Keys to advance to the final in Queens
But Gauff has been in fine form this tournament and believes she’s matured from her last final
The Arthur Ashe Stadium will be a lonely place for the Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, although the pitting of her nationality against an American might not be that big a factor. The Ukraine situation has had less airplay here than at Wimbledon, and definitely less than at Roland Garros, where Sabalenka skipped some press conferences after being questioned about past links with dictator Alexander Lukashenko.
It is more about whether Gauff, who has spent four years being touted as the next big thing, can finally deliver. She thinks that she can, unlike when she made it to the final of the 2022 French Open.
‘Then I was just relieved that I made it to a final because so many people expected a lot of things from me,’ she admitted. ‘I just didn’t really believe that I had it in me, especially at the time playing Iga (Swiatek), who was on a winning streak and everything.
‘This time around, I have 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. I really believe that now I have the maturity and ability to do it.’
Hers has been a remarkable turnaround since a first round exit at Wimbledon, where she looked to be drifting.
‘Honestly when I had that at Wimbledon I was really thinking towards the offseason and preparing for next year. I still think I have a lot to improve, and 100% I wasn’t thinking these results would happen.’
She also pledged to channel her inner Kobe Bryant, following the basketball superstar in remembering that the job is never done until it is over: ‘He has an incredible mentality. One of the things is when he’s up, whatever lead they have, he doesn’t celebrate.
Gauff admitted she was ‘relieved’ just to make the 2022 French Open final in Paris (above)
The 19-year-old will have the crowd on her side when she takes on Sabalenka on Saturday
‘So that’s the mentality that I have. I’m trying to enjoy the moment but also knowing I still have more work to do. The final is an incredible achievement but it’s something that I’m not satisfied with yet.’
Aside from her 0-6 first set in the narrow semi-final win over Madison Keys, Sabalenka has looked the best player in the tournament. She brings a physical presence and powerful ballstrike – and a shrieking soundtrack – that Gauff has yet to encounter here.
As the American seeks to emulate Emma Raducanu in becoming a teenage US Open champion, she will have to overcome someone who already bagged this year’s Australian Open title.
‘ I think that final will definitely help me with all the emotions I went through in that,’ said Sabalenka. ‘It will be different but I know which kind of emotions to expect and how to handle them.’
‘But she (Gauff) is moving really well, also serving really well. She’s hungry, kind of like has nothing to lose. She knows that the crowd is going to support her. I think that’s what makes her a really difficult opponent. ‘