Coco Gauff, 19, reaches first US Open semifinal by beating Jelena Ostapenko 6-0, 6-2

Delray Beach tennis star becomes first American teen to do so since Serena Williams in 2001
Coco Gauff signals to crowd after defeating Jelena Ostapenko at US Open quarterfinals, Sept. 5, 2023
Posted at 2:37 PM, Sep 05, 2023

NEW YORK — Coco Gauff dealt just fine with the heat, the humidity, her big-hitting opponent and the task of trying to reach the U.S. Open semifinals for the first time, defeating 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-0, 6-2 on Tuesday.

Gauff, a 19-year-old from Delray Beach, Florida, is the first American teenager to reach the final four at Flushing Meadows since Serena Williams was the runner-up to her older sister, Venus, in 2001.

Coco Gauff return shot at US Open quarterfinals, Sept. 5, 2023


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"Last year, I lost in the quarterfinal stage, and I wanted to do better this year," Gauff said. "Still have a long way to go, but I'm happy and I'm ready to get back to work for the next one."

She wasn't that satisfied at all, no matter how dominant the performance was that got her to that stage.

“The dreams never came with the people in the stands and autographs. That was never in the dreams,” the 19-year-old from Florida said. “It was just, like, the trophy.”

Only four women remain.

"There's two matches left, you can’t think like that,” the sixth-seeded Gauff said. “I’m still in the mindset that I’m in the beginning of the tournament. That's what I have learned in the past (from) being in quarterfinals: Before, I would think, ‘Close to the end.’ But right now, I have the mentality that I told myself, ‘I still have another two weeks to play.’ So that’s where my mind is at. Then, obviously when it’s over, it’s over. But right now, I’m just saying, ‘Another two weeks.’"

This was the 16th victory in her past 17 matches for Gauff — a first-round exit at Wimbledon in July sure feels like ages ago. Her best Grand Slam showing so far was making it to the final at Roland Garros last year.

Gauff lost that title match to Iga Swiatek and those two could have met again in the U.S. Open quarterfinals. But Swiatek didn't make it, instead losing to Ostapenko in the fourth round. That defeat not only ended Swiatek's title defense but also meant she would relinquish her spot at No. 1 in the WTA rankings to Aryna Sabalenka next week.

When she is on the mark, as she was Sunday night against Swiatek, Ostapenko can be as challenging an opponent as there is, because she goes for broke on nearly every stroke. If the balls land in, she is in business. When they don't, she is in trouble. She finished with 36 unforced errors Tuesday; Gauff had 14.

"I didn't feel comfortable at all the whole match, even on match point. I know the game she plays. She has the ability to come back, no matter the scoreline," said Gauff, who lost to Ostapenko at the Australian Open in January, "so I was just really trying to get every point, trying to play every ball."

Coco Gauff return shot at US Open quarterfinals, Sept. 5, 2023
Coco Gauff returns a shot to Jelena Ostapenko during the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023, in New York.

In the semifinals Thursday, Gauff will face No. 10 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic on Thursday. Muchova, who made it to the French Open final in June, also used a terrific start — saving the nine break points she faced in the opening set, all in one game — to get past No. 30 Sorana Cirstea of Romania 6-0, 6-3 at night.

A year ago at this time, Muchova was ranked 235th and exited the U.S. Open in the first round.

The women's quarterfinals on Wednesday will be Sabalenka of Belarus vs. No. 23 Zheng Qinwen of China, and Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic vs. No. 17 Madison Keys, an American who was the runner-up at the 2017 U.S. Open.

When Gauff and Ostapenko started just past noon in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday, the temperature was at 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity at 55%. At the break before the second set, Ostapenko headed to the locker room, and Gauff sat on the sideline bench with a white towel packed with ice around her neck.

The American, naturally, had the crowd on her side. They applauded and yelled for Gauff even before she stepped out on the court, reacting when she was shown on the arena's video screens during a prematch TV interview.

The roars crescendoed when Gauff was introduced before play began.

Once it did, she got off to about as good a start as possible, grabbing 12 of the opening 15 points to go up by two breaks for a 3-0 lead after just 10 minutes.

Only one of those points for the American arrived via her own clean winner. She didn't need to produce those sorts of shots, though.

That's because Ostapenko kept missing, to the tune of 10 unforced errors in that span alone. After many of those miscues, she would turn toward her guest box and glare at her entourage, as if perhaps it were their fault.

Coco Gauff reacts during match against Jelena Ostapenko in US Open quarterfinals, Sept. 5, 2023
Coco Gauff reacts during a match against Jelena Ostapenko during the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023, in New York.

After one 118 mph ace by Gauff, Ostapenko held her racket and hand inches apart, showing she thought the ball landed outside the box. But there are no appeals on that sort of thing nowadays, because electronic line-calling takes care of every such "Was it in or out?" ruling.

Gauff didn't need to try to force things. To her credit, she didn't. What she did do was use her instincts, smarts and speed to get to Ostapenko's best groundstrokes and send them back over to the other side. That exemplary defense would extend points, more often than not, until Ostapenko erred.

"There's a saying in basketball that defense wins games. In tennis, that's not always the case, but today it was definitely the case," Gauff said. "It's important to have both ends of the court. The defense has always been there, but I've been improving my offense, and I think it's showing and translating well on the court."

Ostapenko was the first woman in 44 years to get to the U.S. Open quarterfinals by winning all four matches in three sets, and Gauff went the distance in three of four last week.

But this one was never headed that way.

In Tuesday's first men's quarterfinal, played with the Arthur Ashe Stadium roof partly closed, 23-time major champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia defeated No. 9 Taylor Fritz of the United States 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.

Djokovic next meets No. 10 Frances Tiafoe or unseeded Ben Shelton, who joined Fritz in making this the first time since 2005 that three U.S. men were in the final eight in New York.