18-year-old Coco Gauff reaches US Open quarter-finals for the first time
NEW YORK — Coco Gauff reached the quarterfinals of the US Open for the first time by coming back in every set to beat China’s Zhang Shuai 7-5, 7-5 in front of a home crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday.
The 18-year-old Floridian, vice-champion of Roland-Garros in June, was trailing 5-4 in the first set, then 5-3 in the second, which she was one point away from losing.
But carried by the spectators who cheered her at every moment, she chanted “Let’s go, Coco!” as the end neared and prompted Zhang to cover his ears with his hands, Gauff improved to 4-0 at Ashe this year. She had never won a match in tennis’ greatest Grand Slam arena.
“That’s crazy. I mean, Ashe Stadium chanting my name?” Gauff, who is yet to drop a set in the tournament, said during his on-court interview. “I was trying not to smile on the bench during the change. I was trying to stay in the moment.”
Gauff is the youngest American to reach the quarter-finals of the US Open since Melanie Oudin was 17 in 2009.
Gauff was also the fourth-round player of any country in the women’s draw at Flushing Meadows this year. Zhang, at 33, was the oldest.
They both competed mostly from the baseline, trading powerful groundstrokes, especially on the backhand side, which both players prefer. And the longer the rallies, the more success Gauff has: she claimed 45 points that lasted five or more shots, while Zhang won 26.
Now the 12th-seeded Gauff will face France’s No. 17 Caroline Garcia, who is playing as well as anyone right now, having won a hard-court title in Cincinnati just before the start of play in New York.
Garcia knocked out No. 29 Alison Riske-Amritraj of the United States 6-4, 6-1 to, like Gauff, earn her first spot in the US Open quarterfinals.
Indeed, none of the eight women in action on Sunday had ever made it past the fourth round at Flushing Meadows before; only two have already appeared in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament: Gauff and number 5 Ons Jabeur, once each.
Jabeur, who reached the final at Wimbledon in July, was due to meet No. 18 Veronika Kudermetova on the night.
This was to follow the most anticipated men’s match of Day 7: defending champion and top seed Daniil Medvedev against Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios. When they met last month on hard court in Montreal, it was Kyrgios who won.
Whoever emerges would face No. 12 Pablo Carreño Busta or No. 27 Karen Khachanov in the quarter-finals.
The other quarter-final in the top half of the men’s group will be 2022 French runner-up Casper Ruud against 2021 Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini.
The No. 5 seed Ruud reached his first US Open quarter-final – and remained in the hunt to reach the No. 1 ranking at the end of the tournament – with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-2 win over Corentin Moutet at Ashe to start the day.
“I dreamed of playing on this pitch at least once in my career,” Ruud said. “Now I have a win here too so I can tell my future children and grandchildren that I played here and it will be a fun story to tell. It was amazing.”
Berrettini, the 2019 New York semifinalist, defeated Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.
“I’m really proud because I didn’t start the match the way I wanted,” said Berrettini, who pulled out of Wimbledon this year after testing positive for COVID-19. “I was a set and a break behind. I found the right energy. I have to say I was a bit tired in the fourth, and he was playing amazing tennis. I lost the fourth, and I was like, ‘OK, now I’m going to give it my all.'”
Gauff continued to create chances with his best shot, a backhand down the line. That’s what forced Zhang’s mistake to award a break for a 6-5 lead for the American. That’s what produced a winner to close out the first set.
The roar of Ashe’s retractable roof closing accompanied the start of the second set because of the downpours which began shortly after, and it took some time for the artificial lights to reach full power. The match went ahead, although it was rather dark – and quite humid – inside.
“The first two games were tough,” Gauff said.
Zhang started to improve back-and-forth a bit midway through the second set, and when she hit her own backhand winner, she broke to lead 5-3.
The Grand Slam doubles champ served to force a third set there, and was one point away from getting there, but Gauff got stronger and held on.
That set point was wasted when Zhang sent a long backhand. Gauff then knocked – what else? – a backhand winner down the line for her third break point of the game, then delivered a fine return from a corner that drew a long backhand to make it 5-4 and start a closing run of four matches.