US Open Day 9: Coco, Ben turn up the heat in New York

American youngsters secure maiden US Open semi-final spots

Coco Gauff / Quarts de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

It was a good day for American young guns in New York as Coco Gauff and Ben Shelton advanced to their first US Open semi-finals, while the ageless Novak Djokovic set a new record, and Karolina Muchova punched her ticket to a second Grand Slam semi-final of the year.

Here's what you may have missed from Day 9 in Flushing Meadows.

Gauff blitzes Ostapenko

Coco Gauff is used to seeing her name mentioned in the same sentence as some of the sport’s greatest legends, as the youngest since, or first since, to achieve a certain feat; that doesn’t make it any less cool though each time it happens.

The 19-year-old American on Tuesday became the first teenager to reach the US Open semi-finals since Serena Williams in 2001, thanks to a 6-0, 6-2 rout of Jelena Ostapenko.

“It means a lot to me. Being in any sentence with her is great. I mean, she's the greatest player of all time, I'm nothing close to that yet. I'm just really honoured to be in the same sentence as her,” said Gauff when asked about her most recent accomplishment that saw her emulate Williams.

“I never take it for granted. She's my idol. I think if you told me when I was younger that I would be in these same stat lines as her, I would freak out.

“I'm still trying not to think about it a lot, because I don't want to get my head big or add pressure, but it is a cool moment to have that stat alongside her.”

This will be Gauff’s first appearance in the final four in New York, and is her best result at a Grand Slam since her runner-up finish at Roland-Garros last year.

The Floridian has won 16 of her last 17 matches – and her last 10 in a row (longest streak of her career) – and will be looking to reach her third final in four tournaments when she takes on Karolina Muchova in the semis on Thursday.

Gauff says she is using her experience from making the final in Paris last season and has adjusted her approach to the closing stretch of this tournament, telling herself there is still a long way to go from now until hopefully lifting the US Open trophy.

“I think what's helping is playing from D.C. to Montreal to Cincinnati, that was a long type of swing. So I think doing well in those tournaments built my mental endurance. Always had the physical endurance but it built my mental endurance,” said the world No.6, who won D.C and Cincinnati in the build up to the US Open.

“Right now I feel emotionally fresh, which I think was the problem in the past in Grand Slams, I would emotionally be drained. Obviously I'm physically fresh and emotionally fresh, and I think that just came from experience.”

Coco Gauff / Quarts de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Feeling ‘fresh’

Gauff has spent 9hr 19min on court in singles so far this fortnight, and another four and a half hours across doubles and mixed doubles (she is through to the doubles quarter-finals alongside Jessica Pegula).

“I just feel so fresh, to be honest. I don't know if it's because I've been tricking myself or maybe when this is over I'm going to hit a wall. But I'm really proud of how I'm able to get through these matches,” added Gauff.

The 19-year-old needed just 68 minutes on Tuesday to dismiss Ostapenko, whose level was nowhere close to how she played during her three-set victory over world No.1 Iga Swiatek on Sunday night.

The Latvian former Roland-Garros champion landed just 38 percent of her first serves in, and committed 36 unforced errors against 12 winners.

“Today was not really good match from me. I think it's really hard to recover from those night matches, because after beating world No.1, I went to sleep at, like, 5:00 in the morning, and still, you sleep for, I don't know, maybe like seven, eight hours, but you completely don't recover,” said the 20th-seeded Ostapenko.

“Yesterday the whole day I felt very low energy. I thought today I was going to wake up and feel better. But honestly, I didn't really feel much better.”

Third Slam semi for Muchova

Kicking off night-session proceedings on Arthur Ashe stadium, Muchova dropped just one more game than Gauff in her quarter-final, but the match lasted 30 minutes longer, as the Czech overcame No.30 seed Sorana Cirstea 6-0, 6-3 in a tussle that was closer than the scoreline suggests.

Muchova is through to the third Grand Slam semi-final of her career and her second of the season, having placed runner-up at Roland-Garros three months ago.

Karolina Muchova / Quarts de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

The semis will be a rematch of the Cincinnati final from two and a half weeks ago, which saw Gauff secure her first WTA 1000 crown with a straight-sets victory over Muchova.

This time last year, Muchova was ranked 235 in the world as she struggled with a series of injuries that stopped her from playing a full schedule. Today she is the world No.10, with a chance to make a maiden US Open final.

Muchova is well aware of the fact Gauff is currently on a roll but adds: "I'm as well pretty confident now, so yeah, I'm just up for the challenge."

Shelton breaks new ground

Just 16 months ago, Ben Shelton was in college, winning the NCAA Championship.

Three months later he decided to turn pro and in his first full season on tour, the 20-year-old American has reached a maiden Grand Slam semi-final, at his home major nonetheless, by defeating his compatriot and world No.10 Frances Tiafoe 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-2 in an electric night-session clash on Arthur Ashe stadium.

It was the first men’s singles Grand Slam quarter-final that featured two African American players – an occasion Tiafoe described as “a pretty monumental moment” ahead of the match.

“I think it’s a big night for people of colour, looking up to Ben and I. For them to know that they can be in this position and playing some of the biggest matches in the world on the biggest stages, it’s a big night,” said Tiafoe before stepping on court.

Ben Shelton & Frances Tiafoe / Quarts de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Shelton, who was a quarter-finalist at the Australian Open earlier this year, had an explosive start, dropping just three points behind his first serve and four behind his second to scoop the first set in 40 minutes.

Tiafoe responded well to take the second before the pair engaged in a roller coaster third set that saw them trade a combined six breaks of serve before Shelton grabbed the tiebreak, despite hitting two double faults at crucial moments, to secure the 69-minute frame.

With so much firepower still left in the tank, Shelton did not back down as he closed out the victory with his 50th winner of the contest to book a semi-final showdown with 23-time major champion Novak Djokovic.

“It was a hot one in here tonight, wasn’t it guys?” Shelton told the crowd after the match. “I feel like I left it all out here tonight, an emotional battle, thanks all you guys for staying so late.”

Looking ahead to his clash with Djokovic, Shelton said: “It doesn’t get much better than that. It’s been tough the last two matches I’ve been playing Americans. But hopefully you guys bring it for me two nights from now?”

Another record for Djokovic

Djokovic had never lost a US Open quarter-final coming into his clash with Taylor Fritz on Tuesday and after dropping just one game in the first set, it was clear that perfect record was going to remain intact.

The world No.2 completed a 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 victory over the ninth-seeded Fritz in just two hours and 35 minutes to improve to 13-0 in US Open quarter-final matches, and more importantly, reach an all-time men’s record 47th major semi-final, pulling ahead of second-placed Roger Federer, who made 46.

As he targets Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles, Djokovic seems as relaxed as ever, even bursting into song during his on-court interview with Rennae Stubbs, urging the Arthur Ashe stadium crowd to sing Beastie Boys’ ‘(You gotta) Fight for your right (to party)’ along with him.

“It’s a huge opportunity every single time I step on the court at this stage in my life. I don’t know how many more opportunities I’ll get, so I’m trying to enjoy as much as I possibly can,” said Djokovic, who is now 8-0 head-to-head against Fritz.

In brutal hot and humid conditions in Flushing Meadows on Tuesday, Djokovic saved 10/12 break points against Fritz, broke the American’s serve six times and was an impressive 13/17 at the net.

“Very humid conditions, difficult to play, but for both players it’s the same, that’s why we train, try to get ourselves in the best possible conditions to deliver. It’s not easy, but as the song went a few minutes ago, ‘You gotta fight for your right to party’,” said Djokovic before starting an impromptu karaoke session with the crowd.

The Serb, who clinched the Cincinnati title ahead of the US Open, takes a 10-match winning streak into his semi-final showdown with Shelton on Friday.

Stats of the day

– At 36, Djokovic is the oldest US Open men’s semi-finalist since Jimmy Connors (39) in 1991.

– Fritz was broken just once through 50 service games across his opening four matches this fortnight but dropped serve six times in his quarter-final against Djokovic on Tuesday.

– Fritz has yet to defeat a top-10 opponent in a Grand Slam and has now fallen to 0-11 against top-10 rivals at the majors.

– At 20 years of age, Shelton is the youngest American man to reach the US Open semi-finals since Michael Chang (20) in 1992.

Novak Djokovic / Quarts de finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT