Coco Gauff greeted fans in every direction at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday, thanking them for their support through one of the easiest victories of her young career, but also the most important. Then she extended her arms and with a big smile waved her fingers up, as if asking for more love.
That’s all Goff, 19, needs right now, just a little more support to help her dream come true. With just two victories at this US Open – four sets – Gauff will win her first major singles title, and now she handles the pressure, if you notice it, with the remarkable composure of a multi-time champion.
“I thought to myself, ‘Man, I have to enjoy this,'” she said. “I’m having so much fun doing it. I shouldn’t have to think about the consequences. I’m living a very fortunate life and I’m very lucky. I don’t want to take it for granted.”
Winning leads to smiles and Gauff, the No. 6 seed, is playing some of her best tennis, taking full advantage of a positive draw to reach her first US Open semi-final.
Under the midday sun on Tuesday, Gauff crushed a tired Latvian Jelena Ostapenko 6-0, 6-2 in just 68 minutes to become the first American teenager to reach the semi-finals of the US Open since Serena Williams in 2001.
Williams was also 19 years old that year. She reached the final, where she lost to her older sister, Venus Williams. Serena Williams had already won the US Open in 1999, eventually taking her total to 23 major singles titles, making her the best player in tennis history.
Of Serena Williams, Goff said: “She’s my idol, and I think if she told me when I was younger that I’d be in those same stats as her I’d freak out. I still try not to think about it too much because I don’t want to blow my head in or over stress, but she Great moment to have that stat on her side.
In the semi-finals, Gauff will play another eminently beatable opponent, No. 30 Sorana Cirstea or No. 10 Karolina Muchova, whose quarter-final match was scheduled for Tuesday night. Gauff faced these players once and won both matches, helping her make her way to the final, and possibly her first Grand Slam title, quite smoothly. She has already avoided a potential quarter-final clash with top seed Iga Swiatek after Ostapenko upset her in a late game on Sunday night.
And when Ostapenko returned to play after 36 hours and the temperature on the court in Ashe was over 90 degrees, she was unable to face Gauff. Trying to hit hard from the start, Ostapenko made 36 unforced errors as Gauff played a patient and mature game, allowing her bemused opponent to surrender on her own.
Gauff, who won the Washington, D.C. and Mason, Ohio tournaments after a disappointing first-round loss at Wimbledon, continued her hard court success by going through the draw in Queen’s. She beat three unseeded players – including former world number one Caroline Wozniacki – 32nd seed Elise Mertens and 20th seed Ostapenko. Her biggest test could be No. 2 Arina Sabalenka, if they both reach the final.
Goff was unable to watch Ostapenko get out of her way Sunday night because of a TV dispute with her hotel provider. But when she saw the result, she realized that the biggest obstacle to success had simply disappeared.
“I was shocked,” said Gove. “But I knew I was going to have to go out there and play tennis, regardless of whether I was playing with her or Jelena.”
And Ostapenko was understandably upset because she had to play so soon after her three-set win over Swatek. She said she got back to her Manhattan hotel around 2 a.m. Monday and didn’t fall asleep until 5 a.m., fueled by adrenaline.
She said she was told after her match that the quarter-final match against Gauff would be tonight and, given Gauff’s popularity, it was reasonable to assume they would be given that first timeslot. Instead, tournament organizers put them on the court at noon, for the first singles match of the day. Frances Tiafoe and Ben Shelton, two famous up-and-coming Americans, were given the night stage on Ashe instead, after the Cirstea-Muchova match.
“When I saw the schedule, I was a bit surprised, not really in a good way,” Ostapenko said.
Ostapenko also said she had a problem with the sun, and added that she expected more from Gauff, even though she had only won two matches and held serve once. But her real problem was with scheduling.
“I think it’s a little crazy,” she said.
In her post-match press conference, Gauff spoke eloquently about her place in tennis, how to deal with pressure, and about growing up as a celebrity, learning from the example of her grandmother, Yvonne Lee Odom, who integrated Seacrest High School in Delray Beach, Florida, in 1961.
“It always reminds me that I’m a human being first, not an athlete,” said Goff.
Her athletic side combined all her skills, ego and intelligence to achieve new achievements in the US Open. She reached the final of the French Open in 2022, where she lost to Swatik, but this is the home tournament where fans – and odds-makers – have made her a new favourite.
She enjoyed the support of the fans, who turned out to the US Open in record numbers this year, in part to see it. She didn’t evade attention, and didn’t fail to smile, at least after her five victories.
Gauff said when she was younger, her dreams were about winning tournaments, such as the US Open. But in those dreams, you never saw fans or autograph seekers or any other people at all. Only the cup.
In hindsight, she said, people like those who attended Ash on Tuesday who will be cheering her on moving forward, and those who said she inspires them, made the experience better.
“I will always go on embracing the public, embracing people, because the conversations I had made me feel really good in this life, so far,” she said.