NEW YORK — Before the first of many Grand Slams come her way, Coco Gauff, the tennis wunderkind that burst onto the professional scene at 15 years old, had to win her first.
After Saturday night, mission accomplished. And after her comments within minutes after her history-making moment, Gauff served noticed to all who doubt her that her motivation to win many more is as high as ever.
Gauff, the No. 6 seed, is a Grand Slam champion for the first time, winning the 2023 US Open after defeating second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 inside of Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday night. The weight of expectations heaped on Gauff’s shoulders, which grew exponentially after she reached the second week at Wimbledon in 2019 at 15 before reaching the final of Roland Garros less than three years later, did not prove much of a burden during her run as a raucous crowd helped Coco push through the finish line in her third come-from-behind victory during the fortnight.
“I feel like I’m a little bit in shock in this moment,” Gauff said. “That French Open loss was a heartbreak for me, but I realize that God puts you through tribulations and trials, and that makes this moment even sweeter than I could’ve imagined. I just knew that if I didn’t give it my all, I had no shot at winning.”
After her first-round exit at Wimbledon against fellow American Sofia Kenin, Gauff’s game became the subject of scrutiny, particularly about her forehand. Soon after, she took on Pere Riba as coach and Brad Gilbert, the former coach of Grand Slam champions Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick, as an advisor. The move paid immediate dividends, as Gauff embarked on the best stretch of her career, winning the tournaments in Washington, D.C. and Cincinnati leading up to Flushing Meadows.
Gauff’s hot streak included a win against World No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the semifinals of Cincinnati, and a potential rematch between the two loomed when the US Open draw came out. That potential matchup, plus whether her forehand was improved enough to win seven matches in a row, were the main reasons many pointed at to doubt Gauff’s ability to win the tournament.
Turns out, Gauff was listening.
“Thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me,” Gauff said during the trophy ceremony. “Like a month ago, I won a 500 title and people said I would stop at that. Two weeks ago, I won a 1000 title and people were saying that was the biggest I was going to get. So three weeks later, I’m here with this trophy right now. I tried my best to carry this with grace and I’ve been doing my best. So honestly, to those who thought [they] were putting water on my fire, you’re really adding gas to it. And now I’m really burning so bright right now.”
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Saturday evening’s match, with all photos taken by NYC-area photographer Margot Jordan. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are seven pictures in total.