As Coco Gauff fought to halt the momentum working against her in the final set of her tension filled fourth-round battle with Caroline Wozniacki at Arthur Ashe Stadium, her coaching team had some advice. Gauff’s newest coach, Brad Gilbert, suggested that it was time for her to hit with more spin, to prioritise consistency and initiate longer points.
But Gauff had already politely asked her team to stop advising her and in one of the most important moments of her season, she took matters into her own hands. Instead of patiently waiting from behind the baseline as instructed, she forced her way inside it and attacked relentlessly. After a tense, physical and fascinating generational battle, Gauff emerged as the victor over Wozniacki, winning 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to return to the quarter-finals of the US Open.
“Getting it to 2-1 was the turning point,” said the sixth seed on her recovery after trailing by a break in the final set. “I showed that I was still in the match after breaking back. I started to go for my shots. I was still being aggressive, I think I made some mistakes in the second, but Caroline, she’s back. It’s like she never left. The level that she’s played today has been amazing. She’s been an inspiration for me growing up.”
This was the most highly anticipated match of the tournament to date and the protagonists shared numerous similarities. They are two of the best athletes of their generations, both armed with wicked backhands and found success at a young age. In the early stages of their careers, though, further success has been limited by their forehands, which the rest of the tour have targeted.
Despite conceding her opening service game, the 19-year-old played an excellent opening set. She found an effective balance between taking the initiative and remaining consistent in the many long, physical exchanges that took place throughout and she landed many returns. Most of all, the American served extremely well, consistently getting free points and mixing up her serve nicely. That contrasted with Wozniacki, who allowed Gauff too many looks at her poor second serves and was punished for it.
But the Dane’s ability to problem solve and figure out how to win matches is undeniable. After a frustrating first set, she started the second by finding many more first serves and she locked down her game, offering minimal unforced errors as she dared Gauff to consistently hit through her. As the rallies became even longer and more physical with no end in sight, Gauff’s forehand began to crumble. She finished the set with 16 forehand unforced errors.
As Gauff tried to stem the flow of forehand errors, the constant advice from her coaches, Pere Riba and Gilbert, began to irritate her, prompting her to ask them to stop. Cue Gauff responding by going all-out on attack, immediately breaking back, re-establishing her excellent serving form and remaining on the front foot as she sealed a significant victory.
Regardless of who she faces in Tuesday’s quarter-final, things will not get any easier for Gauff. She will face either Iga Swiatek, the top seed, who she beat for the first time in Cincinnati last month, or Jelena Ostapenko, who defeated her at the Australian Open. But after the misery of her first-round loss at Wimbledon, Gauff has followed up a spectacular hard-court summer with another deep run in a grand slam tournament, further establishing herself as a contender and doing it her own way.
After two difficult tournaments, Wozniacki departs New York with an excellent showing after being retired for three years.
Not only did she defeat Petra Kvitova, the 11th seed, but the wildcard showed that, if she continues to work, her level and her physicality are both high enough for her to be a factor next year.