Coco Gauff and Frances Tiafoe surge into U.S. Open quarterfinals

NEW YORK — They’re far from the old guard, but Coco Gauff and Frances Tiafoe suddenly seem like regulars at the U.S. Open.

They prevailed one shortly after the other Sunday to help populate a fresh and funky quarterfinal round with some familiar faces. Gauff was the first to win; she ended Caroline Wozniacki’s comeback run to make the final eight at Flushing Meadows for the second straight year. Tiafoe soared into his second straight quarterfinal in New York by dispatching Rinky Hijikata in straight sets.

Tiafoe emerged from an unusual fourth round on the men’s side: The final 16 featured four players ranked outside of the top 100 for the first time since record books starting being kept at the U.S. Open in 1983. Hijikata, the 110th-ranked Australian who had one main-draw win at a Grand Slam before this week, was one of them, joining 128th-ranked Dominic Stricker and 105th-ranked Borna Gojo. (Stricker fell to ninth-seeded American Taylor Fritz, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 6-4; Gojo faced No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic.) Jack Draper, ranked 123rd, plays Andrey Rublev on Monday.

Tiafoe, who came through with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 win over Hijikata, was the first American man to make the fourth round in New York for four straight years since Andre Agassi from 2002 to 2005.

His quarterfinal matchup is against first-time U.S. Open quarterfinalist Ben Shelton and his booming lefty serve; he defeated Tommy Paul, 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, in an all-American faceoff Sunday. Their matchup ensures there again will be an American man in the U.S. Open semifinals — and that the semifinals will feature a Black American man again one year after Tiafoe became the first at the U.S. Open since Arthur Ashe in 1972.

“I’m just going to have to tame him down, try to be the vet and get the win. It’s going to be good. It’s going to be a great atmosphere [and] I think great representation for people of color, right?” Tiafoe said. “Two people of color playing in the quarterfinals, huge match on Arthur Ashe — it’s a pretty monumental moment. I’m pretty excited to compete against him.”

Gauff beat Wozniacki, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, and earned a remarkable stat of her own: She is the first American teen to reach back-to-back U.S. Open quarterfinals since Serena Williams did it from 1999 to 2001.

She won by again employing her problem-solving abilities rather than leaning solely on her elite athleticism. Gauff may be the fastest woman in tennis, but Wozniacki built a top-shelf career on returning every last far-flung ball and letting her opponent err. The 33-year-old’s fitness had not much waned after two children and 3½ years away from the game, and Gauff shirked her coach’s advice to “put more air on the ball” and hit around Wozniacki rather than through her.

Gauff went with her gut and chose to wield a sledgehammer instead.

“I definitely agree that playing longer points is to my advantage. But I felt in that moment, playing Caroline, watching her play so many years, that that’s what she feeds off — the longer points, feeding off you making errors,” Gauff said. “I think he was really trying to tell me to go for less, but also at the same time I watched her play so many years. I didn’t want to play into that game where I was not pushing but not playing the game that I like to play.”

Gauff wrangled control of the third set with her power game and Wozniacki had no counter with a faltering serve — the Dane won just 33 percent of the points on her first serve in the final set.

Next, Gauff could face her greatest challenge yet in a tournament that has been full of them. She could meet Iga Swiatek in a quarterfinal Tuesday; the world No. 1 faced 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in a prime-time, fourth-round matchup Sunday night.

The other quarterfinal in the top half of the draw will feature two first-time U.S. Open quarterfinalists: 30th-seeded Sorana Cirstea and 10th-seeded Karolina Muchova.

Swiatek, who made her first quarterfinal here last year before wining the whole thing, had not dropped a set in the first three rounds and in addition to her fine play has a 7-1 record against Gauff. The 19-year-old’s lone win came last month in the semifinals of the event outside Cincinnati, where Gauff finally understood the intensity and focus required to beat the top-ranked woman in the world.

“I’ve got to play every point to the maximum potential,” she said. “Taking my chances the last match, I mean, it was a physical match, so I know if I were to play her, it’s going to be a physical match.”

The timing of the end of Gauff’s and Tiafoe’s fourth-round matches, as well as the start of Shelton’s second match of the day, in mixed doubles, allowed for a little healthy trash talk among the friends. They’re three members of a hearty group of Americans still alive in the draw — Peyton Stearns, Jessica Pegula and Madison Keys play their fourth-round matches Monday, and Fritz could face Djokovic in the quarterfinals.

Their verbal jousting had nothing to do with tennis.

“I’m indifferent who wins, but I did say that Frances is a little bit upset because I said Ben had the better outfit than him,” Gauff said, laughing. “Because Frances told me at the French Open that he had something crazy planned for [the] U.S. Open! I was like, ‘You’re wearing confetti.’ I said Carlos [Alcaraz] looked better. He’s going to hate this. Love you, Frances.”

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