There has been much hype about Coco Gauff since her famous breakthrough as a 15-year-old at Wimbledon in 2019. But this year’s US Open has created even more attention than previously. Title triumphs in Washington and Cincinnati created a new wave of expectations that she has had to manage in her run to the quarterfinal so far.
However, the pressure to win her first Grand Slam, and on home soil has now risen even further. That is due to the elimination of defending champion Iga Swiatek, who was due to face the American #2 in the quarterfinal.
Why Swiatek was the Biggest Obstacle
To be clear, I am not stating that Swiatek is the only player who can beat Gauff. Last year’s French Open finalist has to win three more tough matches to achieve the glory she craves. But Gauff’s history with the Pole, and the conditions at Flushing Meadows this year made the four-time Grand Slam champion the most likely to stop her ascent.
The sixth seed won her first ever match against Swiatek in the semifinal inCincinnati in a very tight contest. It was a hugely important moment for Gauff’s confidence, and led to even more in the tennis world believing that glory in New York this year is possible. Overall though, she trails 7-1 in her head-to-head against the Warsaw champion. One narrow win (where frankly Swiatek was far below her best) does not alter the reality of it generally being a bad matchup for the 19-year-old. Avoiding the top player she has the worst record against is a welcome development.
Also, I believe that conditions at the US Open this year would have made toppling Swiatek even more difficult. The courts are slightly slower than in many previous years, and the Pole is more comfortable when she has some extra time on her shots. That is what made Jelena Ostapenko’s upset of Swiatek in the fourth round even more extraordinary. The conundrum of the conditions is no longer one that Gauff needs to consider.
Coco Gauff’s Route to the Title
Jelena Ostapenko is not to be taken lightly in the quarterfinal for two reasons in particular. Firstly, her exceptional level against Swiatek. Secondly, the Latvian defeated the American superstar at the Australian Open this year. Although Gauff is the favourite, her last defeat at a hard court Grand Slam coming against Ostapenko is a mental hurdle she must navigate.
Karolina Muchova or Sorana Cirstea await in the semifinal if Gauff progresses to that stage. Each woman provides a different type of challenge. Cirstea has reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in 14 years on the back of her heavy hitting from the baseline. Muchova is capable of that, but also has a more varied game that will leave Gauff guessing if they do meet.
Aryna Sabalenka is the most likely final opponent for Gauff. Her title win at the Australian Open shows her hard court prowess. But she has also reached the semifinal of the other two grand Slams this season. In addition, Sabalenka is also guaranteed to become the new world #1 at the conclusion of this year’s US Open. The powerful game of the Belarusian is a big challenge, but Gauff does lead 2-1 in their head-to-head on outdoor hard courts.
Sabalenka’s final spot is not a guarantee though. Madison Keys is another possibility, who played outstandingly well to topple Gauff’s doubles partner Jessica Pegula. Marketa Vondrousova could also reach the final. The Wimbledon champion fought threw in the last round against Peyton Stearns, and has looked impressive at Flushing Meadows. Finally, Qinwen Zheng is seeking a place in the final. The Chinese player is enjoying a career-best Grand Slam run, and has a hard-hitting and dangerous game.
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