NEW YORK (AP) – Coco Gauff never wavered. Not when a big lead evaporated in the first set. Not when one match point after another fell by the wayside. And not, most distracting of all, when they US Open semi-final against Karolina Muchova was interrupted for 50 minutes on Thursday evening by environmental activists – One of them had his bare feet stuck to the concrete floor of the stands.
It has long been clear that Gauff is no ordinary teenager. Now she is just 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 a anything but ordinary evening.
The hardest part for Gauff may have been getting the victory: she needed six match points to claim victory, loudly supported by a raucous, partisan crowd whose presiding referee, Alison Hughes, repeatedly called for calm.
After failing to convert a match point while serving for the win at 5-3, and then another four in the final game, Gauff got the final chance she needed when she hit a forehand winner , to cap a 40-hit exchange that was the longest of the competition. Muchova then missed a backhand to end the game.
Gauff clenched her fists, waved to fans and put a finger to her ear as if to say she wanted to hear even more support.
“Some of those points were so loud, and I don’t know if my ears will be okay,” said Gauff, the first American teenager since Serena Williams in 2001 to make it to the title game in New York.
“I grew up watching this tournament so much that being in the final means a lot to me. There is a lot to celebrate,” said Gauff. “But the work isn’t done yet, so hopefully you can support me on Saturday.”
She was leading by one set and 1-0 in the second round when four protesters disrupted the game from seats on an upper level of the arena. All four were arrested; Three were removed relatively quickly, but it took longer to remove the person stuck to the ground.
Both women spent time in the locker room during the delay. When action resumed, the game was fairly even for several games. But then Gauff stormed forward and got her first match point, but Muchova canceled it out with a volley winner and then recovered.
They continued playing for almost half an hour.
With Gauff leading 6:5 and Muchova serving, the number of away players continued to rise. Mukhova resisted. Gauff could not prevail.
Once. Twice. 3 times. Four. In this game alone, Gauff came so close to the finish line again and again. The roar from the seats kept coming. Finally, Gauff completed her 11th straight victory and 17th in her last 18 matches, a run that began after a first-round exit at Wimbledon in July. The series includes the two biggest titles of Gauff’s career – and now she needs one more win to win an even more important championship.
She was the one Runner-up at the 2022 French Open and will attempt to win her first Grand Slam title.
Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open in January and is guaranteed to move to No. 1 in the rankings for the first time next week, and Keys, the runner-up at the 2017 US Open, were scheduled to meet in the second semifinal Thursday night.
“Maybe I’ll watch some of the game. Maybe not,” Gauff said. “To be honest, I haven’t thought that far ahead.”
When Gauff and Muchova set off at 7:15 p.m., it was cloudy and significantly cooler than it had been this week in Flushing Meadows, falling from nearly 35 degrees Celsius on Wednesday to the low 20s Celsius.
Gauff showed a fantastic performance in the early stages: after just 10 minutes she scored 12 of the first 16 points and took a 3-0 lead.
A real key factor in this phase: Gauff didn’t let No. 10 seed Muchova, a 27-year-old from the Czech Republic, feel comfortable at the net, where her varied style often pays off. Muchova lost the point on her first three forays forward – and Gauff scored a perfect lob once in each of the first two games. At the end of the game, Muchova had shot just 10 of 24 at the net.
Gauff took a 5-1 lead before Muchova raised her level and moved to 5-4. But Gauff broke out and took the opening set.
However, just a few minutes later there was a delay. First, Gauff sat in the chair next to her and ate some fruit from a container with a plastic fork. Then she grabbed some tennis balls and stepped back onto the court to do a few practice serves.
Muchova asked to be seen by a physiotherapist during the extended break, although it was not immediately clear why. At the start of the tournament, she wore tape near her right elbow and showed up for this bout with an all-black sleeve on her arm.
If she wasn’t at 100%, what player would she be at this point in the season? — Gauff deserves credit for finding the right time to let Muchova out rather than trying to get too aggressive. Muchova made a total of 36 unforced errors, 11 more than Gauff.
What Gauff also showed was that she was ready for the moment, the success that was predicted for her, as in 2019, at the age of 15, she became the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history, reaching the fourth round there.