Cincinnati: Djokovic defiance, Gauff joy

The Western & Southern Open served up a compelling week with the US Open just around the corner.

Carlos Alcaraz & Novak Djokovic / Finale Cincinnati 2023©Ray Giubilo / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

It was a record-breaking type of week in Cincinnati. 

The Western & Southern Open provided a plethora of mind-boggling matches. The women's champion became the first teenager in tournament history. Over to the men's event and the longest best-of-three sets final in ATP history defied logic.

Here's the tale of the tape from Ohio…

Djokovic rides out instant classic

11 years ago, following a marathon Australian Open final triumph over Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic ripped his shirt wide open in wild post-match celebrations.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion burst into the same celebration on Sunday night.

Match point saved, three hours and 48 minutes on court, the Serbian captured his record-extending 39th Masters 1000 title in astonishing fashion. 

The 5-7, 7-6(7), 7-6(4) rollercoaster with world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz was the latest thrilling instalment of their burgeoning rivalry, avenging Wimbledon final heartbreak last month.

This was on another level.

“Crazy. Definitely one of the toughest matches I've ever played in my life, regardless what tournament, what category, what level, what player. It's unbelievable,” declared the exhausted 36-year-old.

“From the beginning 'til the end we've both been through so much, so many ups and downs, highs and lows, incredible points, poor games, heat strokes, coming back.

“Just overall, one of the toughest and most exciting matches I was ever part of and these are the kinds of moments and matches that I continue to work for day in day out.

"I was never in doubt that I can deliver the 'A' game when it mattered the most and I'm just thrilled.”

Converting his fifth championship point, Djokovic levelled his head-to-head at 2-2 with the never-say-die Spaniard.

"Boy, you never give up," quipped the Serbian in the trophy presentation. The respect is palpable.

"You just have to put your hats down to a guy like that, who plays so maturely, handles the pressure so well for a 20-year-old,” stated Djokovic.

“We cannot forget how young he is. That's something that is so impressive about him. The feeling that I have on the court reminds me a little bit when I was facing Nadal when we were at our prime of our careers. Each point is a hustle. Each point is a battle. 

“Amazing to be able to experience that with him on the court. It just keeps getting better for the fans. It's definitely a challenge that we both need to embrace and accept because that's what's required from both of us in order to win big titles.”

Over the New York we go! Can Djokovic steal away Alcaraz's US Open crown?

Two titles in three weeks for Coco

Rewind to Wimbledon last month and Coco Gauff cut a dejected figure.

Returning to the drawing board after a first-round exit, the world No.6 hired coach Pere Riba and consultant Brad Gilbert.

The new voices have unleashed a reinvigorated version of the 19-year-old, who has won 11 of her past 12 matches to rule in Washington and Cincinnati, striking the ball with such conviction on home soil. 

The Western & Southern Open is an event Gauff watched as a kid, dreamt about winning. Now it's a reality, built on a maiden triumph over world No.1 Iga Swiatek.

Gauff edged the Pole 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-4 in Saturday's semi-final, which seems like a seismic movement for the world No.6, altering their record to 1-7.

The American then dominated proceedings 6-3, 6-4 to defy Roland-Garros runner-up Karolina Muchova to lift the vase-like trophy.

"I'm super happy with how I was able to manage this week," said Gauff. 

"It's the biggest title of my career, that’s crazy to say. I did say earlier this year that I want to better at the 500 and 1000 level. I accomplished that goal and I'm really happy how I'm going right now." 

2023 has witnessed 19-year-old collect the Auckland title in January as well as 500 glory in Washington a fortnight ago. In doing so, Gauff is the first teenage to clinch five career titles since Caroline Wozniacki in 2009.

The supreme serving, the heavy work on the forehand wing, the pro-active hitting, Gauff is the form player on the WTA tour.

New York is calling for the American prodigy, her previous US Open best was a quarter-final quest last September.

"These last couple of weeks have just been minor adjustments, so that makes me really excited when I actually have a break in the season to really improve," Gauff told WTA Insider.

"I'm going to try to take this level, and an even higher level into the US Open. I'm going to give it my all.

"If things go great, that's exciting. If not, I go back and work hard and get ready for the next one. That's kind of the mentality you have to have."