NEW YORK – Coco Gauff said critics who doubted her ability to win a Major title fuelled her breakthrough Grand Slam victory at the US Open on Saturday.
The 19-year-old American captured the first Major championship of her career with a battling 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over incoming world No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka in front of a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York.
Gauff, who climbed into the stands to embrace her family after the win, afterwards gave a cheeky “thank you” to those who wondered whether she was capable of landing Major titles.
“Honestly, thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me... two weeks ago, I won a 1000 title (in Cincinnati) and people were saying that was the biggest it was going to get,” she said. “Three weeks later, I’m here with this trophy right now.
“Honestly, those who thought they were putting water on my fire, you were really adding gas to it, and now I’m really burning so bright right now.”
Gauff had been beaten in her first Grand Slam final appearance at the French Open in 2022, a defeat she told ESPN on Saturday left her feeling like “my life was going to end”.
“That French Open loss (in 2022) was a heartbreak for me. That makes this moment even sweeter than I could imagine,” she said.
“I’m so grateful for this moment. I don’t have any words for it to be honest.”
Gauff has been in the glaring lights of fame since she was a 15-year-old playing into the fourth round at Wimbledon, but after winning the US Open, those lights could become blinding and the fame distracting.
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Despite the doubters, Gauff has demonstrated a composed maturity in her time in the public eye, and she declared herself up for the challenge of becoming even more famous and rich, even as she tries to keep winning important tournaments.
“I’m ready,” she said. “I embrace it. I know how to keep my peace, but also embrace all of this around me.”
“She is so humble,” said Pere Riba, her coach, after the match. “Her work ethic is so strong, so professional and she has very good manners. Put all of that together and she will only get better. She can handle it all.”
Riba has only been working with Gauff, alongside Brad Gilbert, since June, right before Wimbledon. Gauff’s father, Corey, asked Riba to be his daughter’s coach this summer on a temporary basis that turned permanent. Gauff said that her father recommended hiring Gilbert, too. But Corey remains a steady influence and inspiration.
“The most important person for Coco on the team is the dad,” Riba said. “The parents are really, really important for her.”
Gauff paid tribute to her father, who took her to the US Open when she was growing up to watch her tennis idols Serena and Venus Williams.
“Today was the first time I’ve ever seen my dad cry,” Gauff said. “He doesn’t want me to tell you about that.
“I’ve been coming to this tournament (for so long). My dad took me to this tournament sitting right there watching Venus and Serena compete, so it’s really incredible to be on this stage.”
The win ensured Gauff will have her name etched into tennis history alongside other black American women to lift the title such as the Williams sisters, Althea Gibson and Sloane Stephens.
“It’s crazy. I mean, they’re the reason why I have this trophy today, to be honest,” Gauff said of the Williams sisters.
“They have allowed me to believe in this dream growing up. You know, there wasn’t too many just black tennis players dominating the sport. It was literally just them that I can remember when I was younger.
“Obviously more came because of their legacy. So it made the dream more believable. But all the things that they had to go through, they made it easier for someone like me to do this.”
Gauff referenced the Williams sisters’ 14-year boycott of the prestigious Indian Wells tournament – due to alleged racist heckling and Venus’ push for equal pay for women at Major championships.
“You look back at the history with Indian Wells, with Serena, all she had to go through, Venus fighting for equal pay,” Gauff said.
“Words can’t describe what (Serena and Venus Williams) meant to me. I hope another girl can see this and believe they can do it and hopefully their name can be on this trophy too.” AFP, NYTIMES