US Open Day 13: Coco the Queen of Queens

Teenager Coco Gauff rallied from a set town to lift her maiden major on a star-studded Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Coco Gauff / Finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Bopping up and down, dancing without a care in the world, an eight-year-old Coco Gauff was loving life at the 2012 Arthur Ashe Kids' Day.

You've probably seen the footage on social media, Gauff up in the stands with a smile very similar to the one beaming from cheek to cheek on Saturday night.

Just 11 years on from that video the American has lifted her first Grand Slam title.

With rock-solid composure well beyond her years, the teenage sensation reeled in soon-to-be world No.1 Aryna Sabalenka 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 to fulfil her destiny.

Ever since Gauff burst onto the scene she's been the next Serena, the next Venus, now it's Coco the champion.

"Right now I'm just feeling happiness and a very, very small bit of relief," said the spirited 19-year-old. "Because honestly at this point I was doing it for myself and not for other people.

"I have just been embracing every positive and negative thing that's said about me. I realise sometimes people have different personalities and some people need to shut off the (social media) comments and not look at them. But I'm an argumentative person. I'm very stubborn. My parents know.

"So I really told myself, literally up until, like, 10 minutes before the match, I was just reading comments of people saying I wasn't going to win today. That just put the fire in me."

Reset to plot the path to glory

Australian Open champion Sabalenka, topping the rankings for the first time on Monday, took control of a turbulent opener.

The 25-year-old's slingshot groundstrokes, as well as a string of uncharacteristic errors, kept Coco guessing, on the fringes of the action as it was all on Sabalenka's racket.

The bigger the point, the bigger the risk from Sabalenka and the No.2 seed tested Gauff's astonishing retrieval skills to the limit, keeping her sprinting back and forth, overpowering for a set lead.

"It doesn't get more dramatic than that to be honest. I used the bathroom because I was nervous. I was washing my hands, I put some water on my face, and I was, like, 'Okay, I've got to just reset and redo it,'" revealed the home charge.

"She was just playing great tennis, and I knew today was going to be one of those problem-solving tough matches."

Aryna Sabalenka / Finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

The comeback launched into life at 2-1, Gauff sprinting to her left out wide to clip a backhand cross court passing shot. The roar from 24,000 ardent fans told Coco that was a special strike.

Gauff hailed it "momentum shifter," pointing at her latest trophy; "After that I just felt like I knew I was coming home with this."

Into the decider the American chased down a net cord to then back pedal to putaway a Sabalenka lob. With this immediate break, Coco could truly unleash. The dedicated Anime fan was jumping into cartoon-like 'pow' and 'boom' shots.

The match point, a backhand pass on the run had the celebrity laden crowd jumping in the air in sheer delight.

A stardust moment for a one-of-a-kind superstar who continues to attract fans across ages, across backgrounds, across generations.

Coco Gauff / Finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Paris pain the turning point

It's been some timeline for Gauff. 

Riddled by nerves she fell 6-0, 6-2 to Amanda Anisimova in the 2017 US Open girls' singles final. A year on Gauff fell in qualifying in Queens.

Coco made her US Open debut at the 2019 US Open, just a couple of months after upsetting one of her idols Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon.

Since then the 19-year-old has established herself in the upper echelons of tennis. As recent as the Roland-Garros 2022 final, Gauff had major glory snatched away by Iga Swiatek.

"I don't know if they caught it on camera but I watched Iga lift up that trophy, and I watched her the whole time. I said, 'I'm not going to take my eyes off her, because I want to feel what that felt like for her,'" pinpointed Gauff, quarter-finalist in Paris in June.

"Honestly, I feel like probably this French Open (2023) is honestly where it changed.

Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff, finał, Roland-Garros 2022© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

"Because I felt pressure to back up the final, and I obviously didn't. So I was, like, 'Okay, well, I've got to reset.'"

Up until Friday night, the 2022 final loss on Court Philippe-Chatrier was still teaching Gauff lessons.

"Honestly, I didn't have any of those visions till last night. I thought about it, but I told myself to get it out of my head, because that's what I did at French," claimed the teenager, soon to become world No.3 in updated rankings.

"I was envisioning what would happen if I would win. I think I wanted it too much.

"Last night, I started a little bit, but honestly, I just called my boyfriend, and I told him let's talk until it's time to go to sleep so we spoke until 1:00 a.m. and then I went to sleep."

Gauff has lived majority of her teens under the spotlight, fielding questions on legacy and matching icons such as the Williams sisters. Grounded by her family, Gauff has managed to adapt to life in 'Cocomania.' 

"I feel like this is a big achievement, but honestly, I feel like I've been so used to this since I was basically 15-years-old in high school, doing online school, just used to it," stated the champion.

"I'm sure it might be a much bigger scale now because of this achievement, but I'm ready. I know how to keep my peace but also embrace all of this around me.

"I think the pressure has been a little bit taken off a little bit, and I still am hungry for more. But yeah, I'm just going to enjoy this and try not to look into the future." 

Coco Gauff / Finale US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Sablenka shares top ambitions

It's well documented Sabalenka will wake up on Monday as the new world No.1, replacing Swiatek after 75 weeks at the helm.

The 25-year-old, whilst gracious in defeat, bemoaned "still having these issues playing against myself," having unravelled on Saturday night.

"Becoming a world No.1, it's a huge improvement, and achievement, actually. I'm really proud of myself that all those years I have been working so hard.

"But, for me it's more about end the year as world No.1, not just like become World No. 1 and then next week you're second. That's why I'm still positive, and I'm still motivated."

Stat of the day  

Gauff is the the first American teenager to win a women's Grand Slam singles title this Century and the first since her idol Serena Williams did so in New York in 1999.