Coco Gauff never wavered. Not when a big lead in the first set evaporated. Not when match point after match point went by the wayside. And not, most distracting of all, when her U.S. Open semifinal against Karolina Muchova was interrupted for 50 minutes Thursday night by environmental activists — one of whom glued his bare feet to the concrete floor in the stands.
It’s been rather obvious for quite some time that Gauff is no ordinary teenager. Now she is one win away from becoming a Grand Slam champion.
Gauff, a 19-year-old from Florida, reached her first final at Flushing Meadows by defeating Muchova 6-4, 7-5 on what was anything but an ordinary evening.
The toughest part for Gauff might have been closing out the victory: She needed six match points to get it done, raucously supported by a loud, partisan crowd that chair umpire Alison Hughes repeatedly implored to quiet down.
After failing to convert one match point while serving for the win at 5-3, then another four in what turned out to be the last game, Gauff got the last chance she would need when she smacked a forehand winner to cap a 40-stroke exchange that was the longest of the contest. Muchova then missed a backhand to end it.
“Some of those points, it was so loud, and I don’t know if my ears are going to be OK,” said Gauff, the first American teenager to make it to the title match in New York since Serena Williams in 2001.
“I grew up watching this tournament so much, so it means a lot to be in the final. A lot to celebrate,” Gauff said. “But the job is not done, so hopefully you can back me on Saturday.”
She was up by a set and 1-0 in the second when four protesters disrupted play from seats in an upper level of the arena. All four were arrested; three were escorted away relatively quickly, but it took more time to remove the person glued to the ground.
Both women spent time in the locker room during the delay. When action resumed, the play was pretty even for several games. But then Gauff surged ahead and got her first match point, but Muchova erased that with a volley winner and would go on to break back.
They would play on for nearly a half-hour.
With Gauff leading 6-5 and Muchova serving, the one-point-away count kept climbing. Muchova resisted. Gauff was unable to pull through.
Once. Twice. Three times. Four. In that game alone, Gauff kept getting so near to the finish line. The roars from the seats kept coming. Finally, Gauff completed her 11th win a row and the 17th in her past 18 matches, a run that began after a first-round exit at Wimbledon in July. The streak includes the two biggest titles of Gauff’s career — and now she needs one more win to get an even more important championship.
She was the runner-up at the 2022 French Open and will try to claim her first Grand Slam title.
Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open in January and is guaranteed to move up to No. 1 in the rankings for the first time next week, and Keys, the runner-up at the 2017 U.S. Open, were scheduled to meet in the second semifinal Thursday night.
“I may watch some of the match. Maybe not,” Gauff said. “I haven’t thought that far ahead, to be honest.”
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