The first teenager to play in a U.S. Open final since Serena in 2001 there was symmetry to the moment as Gauff rallied to beat the second seeded Belarusian 2-6 6-3 6-2 and end a six-year barren stretch for American tennis fans, who were finally able to celebrate a homegrown champion.
“I am so happy I could make this country proud,” said Gauff as chants of “USA, USA” rang out behind her.
American women have been on the rise in recent years, moving into the top 10 and winning tournaments but since Serena Williams played her last match on Arthur Ashe in 2022, the U.S. has been without a standard bearer — until now.
Gauff, who as a young girl, said she had dreamt of becoming the next Serena Williams, is now just that the undisputed face of U.S. tennis with many predicting she will become the world’s top ranked player one day with a trophy case packed with Grand Slam titles.
“ Congratulations to U.S. Open champion, @CocoGauff! We couldn’t be prouder of you on and off the court – and we know the best is yet to come,” posted former U.S. President Barack Obama on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.
Still just 19-years-old Gauff has matured under an unforgiving sporting spotlight as player and a person.
The finished product was on display on Saturday as Gauff defused Sabalenka’s power with speed and tenacity running down ball-after-ball and then acknowledged her success with grace.
“ That little girl, like she had the dream, but I don’t know if she fully believed it. As a kid, you have so many dreams.
“As you get older sometimes it can fiddle away. I would tell her don’t lose that dream,”said Gauff.
As impressive as Gauff is on the court she is no less so away from tennis.
Immediately after her win Gauff’s first reaction after lifting herself off the court and wiping away tears of joy was to search the stands for her parents, who used to bring her to New York as a young girl to watch her idols on the same court.
The charismatic teen also possesses a sharp social awareness and delightful sense of humour all of which are going to make her very rich as sponsors rush to her door.
When climate activists interrupted her semi-final, causing a nearly hour delay, Gauff later showed no animosity, saying later she believed that climate change was real.
The U.S. Open this year celebrated Billie Jean King and the 50th anniversary of the fight for equal pay, Gauff playfully acknowledging the struggle when accepting the trophy.
“Thank you Billie Jean for fighting for this,” said Gauff waving a $3 million winner’s cheque.
Gauff has long been tipped for greatness.
A top junior, she was presented the key to her city of Delray Beach at just 14 and burst onto the world scene a year later beating another of her idols Venus Williams at Wimbledon.
Progress as a professional has been steady but not always at a pace some demanded.
Last year she made her Grand Slam breakthrough reaching the final of the French Open, but losing. Then at this year’s Wimbledon hit a low with a first round loss that left her feeling like the dream had ended for her.
“It’s been difficult it’s been a long journey to this point,” said Gauff. “I wasn’t a fully developed player and I still think I have a lot of development to go at that moment.
“I think people were putting a lot of pressure on me to win.
“Now I just realize that I just need to go out there and try my best.”
Renewed focus and the return home for the hard court season brought a change of form and motivation.
Since the Wimbledon loss Gauff has won 18 of 19 matches including U.S. Open, Cincinnati Open and Washington Open.
“Thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me,” sixth seed Gauff told a packed Arthur Ashe stadium that backed her from the moment she appeared out of the tunnel. “A month ago, I won a 500 (level) 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 it 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 have been doing my best and honestly to those who thought they were putting water on my fire you were really adding gas to it and now I am burning so bright.”(Reuters/NAN)