This was what so many folks figured Coco Gauff would do at some point. Didn’t matter how young she was. Didn’t matter whether there were setbacks along the way. Those outsized expectations did not make the task of becoming a Grand Slam champion as a teenager any easier — especially when that chorus was accompanied by voices of others who doubted her.
She did it, though. At age 19. At the U.S. Open, where she used to come as a kid with her parents to watch her idols, Serena and Venus Williams, compete.
Gauff set aside a so-so start and surged to her first major championship by coming back to defeat Aryna Sabalenka 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the U.S. Open final on Saturday, delighting a raucous crowd that was loud from start to finish.
When it was over, when she had shed tears of joy, when she had hugged Mom and Dad as they cried, too, Gauff first thanked them, and her grandparents, and her brothers, one of whom failed to answer a FaceTime call from her right after the match. And then Gauff took the microphone to address anyone who might have questioned if this day would arrive.
“Thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me. Like a month ago, I won a (tour) title and people said I would stop at that. Two weeks ago I won a (tour) 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,” said Gauff, who is on a career-best 12-match winning streak. “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 in my fire: You were really adding gas to it and now it’s really burning so bright right now.”
Gauff, who is from Florida, is the first American teenager to win the country’s major tennis tournament since Serena Williams in 1999. If last year’s U.S. Open was all about saying goodbye to Williams as she competed for the final time, this year’s two weeks in New York turned into a “Welcome to the big time!” moment for Gauff. Famous people were coming to watch her play each time, and one, former President Barack Obama, sent a congratulatory note via social media on Saturday.
Gauff burst onto the scene at 15 by becoming the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history and making it to the fourth round in her Grand Slam debut in 2019. She reached her initial major final at last year’s French Open, finishing as the runner-up. What appeared to be a step back came this July at the All England Club, where she exited in the first round.