If the first week of the US Open belonged to Serena Williams and her grand farewell to the sport, the second week belongs to those who hope to follow in her footsteps and create their own history in New York.
US Open - Quarter-finals preview: Living up to Serena’s legend
Focus on the first four quarter-finals of the 2022 US Open!
It does not seem possible that Coco Gauff is still only 18 years old. She has been billed as a champion in waiting ever since she won the Roland Garros junior title as a 14-year-old and every time she speaks, she sounds like a player at least twice her age.
She is young, sure enough, but she has a wise old head on her shoulders and more than enough experience in the bank to earn her one of those major titles the world expects her to win.
Her run to the Roland Garros final this year was a massive step forward in her development and now that she is through to the quarter-finals at her home Grand Slam, she is growing into the role of the local favourite.
She has played all her matches in the massive Arthur Ashe stadium and the louder it gets in there, the better she seems to like it.
“I just feed off of it,” she said. “I think it helps me more. I mean, for some players, they prefer a more chill, relaxed environment. For me, if anyone has seen me play, I like to get pumped up. The New York crowd seems to like it, too.”
Standing in her way today is Caroline Garcia, who is having her best summer in years. She comes into today’s match on a 12-match unbeaten streak after qualifying and then going on to win the Cincinnati title and then ripping through the first four rounds in New York.
Garcia has yet to play on Ashe – and her debut will be a night match against an American. It does not get much louder than that. She also goes into the encounter knowing that she has lost the only two times she has faced Gauff. Then again, as Gauff pointed out: “I think she's just a different player from when I played her last time.”
Now aged 28, Garcia has had her ups and downs over the years but she thinks that winning the title on grass in Bad Homburg in June was a huge turning point in her year.
“I think this tournament was really the week a lot of things changed,” she said. “I went for it. I didn't know if it was going to work, but I believe and we believe with the team that it was a good way to do so and improve from that point. From this week, a lot of things went well after.”
The winner of that match will face either Ons Jabeur, the Wimbledon runner up, or Ajla Tomljanovic, the woman who ended Serena’s career last Friday night.
They, too, have met twice before with Jabeur winning both times. But, just like Garcia, Tomljanovic is a different player this summer. The way she held her nerve and her focus to beat Serena over the course of three hours – and the way she backed up that victory by finding a way past Liudmila Samsonova – showed a new level of mental grit. And now she wants more. “I'm feeling still really hungry, which I like,” she said.
Her compatriot, Nick Kyrgios, is also showing a new side of himself this year. The experience of winning the doubles at the Australian Open taught him just quite how gruelling it is to maintain his focus over two weeks. Reaching the Wimbledon final proved that he had learned from his time in Melbourne and could manage his resources over seven rounds in singles. Now he is into the last eight again and faces Karen Khachanov.
They have only played twice before with honours even but, both times, it was close. Yet if Kyrgios can play the way he did to beat Daniil Medvedev on Sunday night, anything seems possible.
Meanwhile, Matteo Berrettini, the 2019 semi-finalist in New York, has to find a way to do what few have managed this year: beat Casper Ruud. The Roland Garros runner-up had never got beyond the third round at the Open before this year and while it has not been easy – only one straight sets win so far – he is still here.
Berrettini, too, has had to battle through the rounds and comes into today’s match with a losing record against the Norwegian: played five, lost three. But he has won their only match on a hard court – in New York in 2020.