Despite oppressive temperatures that hovered in the 90s in New York on Tuesday, Coco Gauff barely had to break a sweat to reach her first U.S. Open semifinal.
The 19-year-old American No. 6 seed destroyed No. 20 Jelena Ostapenko, 6-0, 6-2, in 68 minutes in the quarterfinals in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Gauff is now 16-1 since losing in the first round of Wimbledon and adding Brad Gilbert to her coaching team.
In Thursday’s semifinals, Gauff, one of five American men and women in the quarterfinals, will meet the winner of Tuesday’s night match between No. 10 Karolina Muchova and No. 30 Sorana Cirstea. The women’s final is Saturday afternoon.
“It feels great, so happy,” she said on court. “Last year I lost in the quarterfinal stage and I wanted to do better this year. Still have a long way to go but I’m happy and I’m ready to get back to work for the next one.”
Gauff is the No. 2 betting favorite to the win the title behind No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, who will become the new world No. 1 on Sept. 11.
Semifinalists will take home $775,000. The winner earns $3 million and the runner-up $1.5 million.
When the draw came out, many had expected Gauff to meet world No. 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek in the quarterfinals, but Ostapenko stunned Swiatek in three sets in the fourth round to improve to 4-0 against her.
Gauff had lost her last encounter with Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, 7-5, 6-3, in the fourth round of the Australian Open in January.
But Gauff has been red hot since losing in the first round of Wimbledon to American Sofia Kenin. With Gilbert in her coaching circle, she won titles in Washington, D.C. and Cincinnati, taking out Swiatek for the first time in the latter tournament.
Gilbert, who sat in her box dressed in black with a black bucket cap, has encouraged Gauff to go for more on her serve and has also worked to adjust her return position. He can often be heard telling her to be more “aggressive” and to “make it physical.”
“He’s convinced Coco to serve bigger, go after her serve, make it more of a weapon,” Mary Joe Fernandez said on ESPN.
Gauff chose not to engage in a slugfest with the big-hitting Latvian and instead focused on steady, consistent hitting from the baseline. It proved too much for Ostapenko, who sprayed balls all over the Ashe Stadium court.
“I was trying my best to be aggressive when I could and I most of the time I was just trying to get the ball deep,” Gauff said.
“In basketball, there’s an expression that defense wins games. Tennis, that’s not always the case but today that was the case….I’ve been working on improving my defense and I think it’s translated well on the court.”
Serving at 5-0, 40-15 in the first set, Gauff won it with a crosscourt drop shot that was out of Ostapenko’s reach.
Serving at 2-4, Ostapenko went down a double-break at 2-5 when she hit a low forehand into the net, bringing Gauff to the cusp of victory.
On her third match point, Gauff closed it out with a forehand crosscourt winner and then pumped her fist to the crowd before embracing Ostapenko at the net.
“Honestly, I didn’’t feel comfortable the whole match, even on the match points,” Gauff said. “I know the match she plays, she has the ability to come back at any point.”
Gauff, who has served as a huge role model for a younger generation of budding American players, is the biggest American star at a tournament where Americans have been resurgent. Three American men — No. 9 Taylor Fritz, No. 10 Frances Tiafoe and Ben Shelton — are into the quarterfinals for the first time since 2005, and Gauff and Madison Keys reached at least the quarters. Keys, a former U.S. Open finalist, dominated world No. 3 and fellow American Jessica Pegula in straight sets on Monday.
Fritz was set to play No. 2 Novak Djokovic Tuesday afternoon, with Shelton and Tiafoe battling in an all-American quarterfinal Tuesday night.
“With Ben and Frances [Tiafoe] winning guarantees a person in the semi,” Gauff said ahead of her match. “With Jess [Pegula] and Maddie [Keys] playing, it guarantees a person in the quarters.
“It’s just really exciting tennis for America. I hope that the fans are excited and happy with it.”