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Coco Gauff Becomes US Open Champion, Black Players Make History at the Tournament

Jada Ingleton | 101 Magazine Coco Gauff with the US Open trophy, her first Grand Slam Title. Photo Courtesy of U.S. Open

On Saturday, Sept. 9, Coco Gauff made history by becoming the third American teenager to win the US Open Tennis Championship. 

Gauff defeated Aryna Sabalenka in three sets – 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 – to win her fourth singles title in 2023 and first major title in front of a packed crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium. At the time, Gauff was the No. 6 ranked player in the world as opposed to Sabalenka, who ranked No. 2.

After a rally which featured 11 shots between Gauff and Sabalenka, Gauff delivered the final sequence of the rally with a backhand shot to win her first title. Once the shot hit the ground on Sabalenka’s side of the court, Gauff fell to the ground and laid there for a few seconds. After sitting back up and crying tears of joy, Gauff hugged Sabalenka, and ran up the stairs to hug her parents and coaches.

Moments after her win, she described the moment to ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez saying, “I feel like I’m a little bit in shock at this moment. That [2022] French Open loss was a heartbreak for me. But I realized God puts you through tribulations and trials and that makes this moment even sweeter than I could have imagined.”

At just 19 years old, Gauff became the youngest American to win the US Open since Serena Williams in 1999. Along with winning her first major title, she accomplished another feat that places her alongside Williams in the history books by becoming the first woman to win the US Open after dropping the first set in three matches since Williams did in 1999. 

During Gauff’s press conference, Richard Osborn, a digital content producer for the US Open website, asked her how she felt seeing her name sketched on the trophy next to Venus and Serena Williams. Gauff responded to the question saying, “I mean, they’re the reason why I have this trophy today, to be honest. They have allowed me to believe in this dream. Growing up, there weren’t too many Black tennis players dominating the sport. It was… at that time when I was younger, it was just them that I can remember.”

Gauff became the sixth Black woman to win the US Open, joining Sloane Stephens, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Naomi Osaka, and Althea Gibson. When it comes to Black American tennis players, the Williams sisters are the two names mentioned most often. Gauff spoke on the “Today” show about being compared to Serena Williams and “taking the torch”, a notion she has pushed back on since the comparisons began. Gauff also mentioned the one regret she has: that she never had the opportunity to play Serena Williams.

“She’s my idol and I think the only regret I’ll have for the rest of my life is not being able to play her. There were so many tournaments where if we won an extra round or didn’t lose, I would’ve played her. But I’m still happy to just be a product of her legacy and be out here,”  Gauff told Today.

Coco Gauff (left) and Serena Williams (right). Photo Courtesy of Insider and AP Photo

She made the finals of the French Open in 2022, losing to No. 1 ranked Iga Swiatek in straight sets. Many tennis fans may remember Gauff bursting onto the scene as a 15 year-old during the 2019 Wimbledon, making it all the way to the Round of 16 before losing to Simona Halep. However, her third round match in the 2019 US Open against the former reigning US Open champion – Naomi Osaka – is considered her most notable career moment due to the heartfelt post-game interview the two shared after Osaka’s victory. Osaka was in attendance for Gauff’s semifinal win against the Czech Republic’s Karolina Muchova.

While Gauff took the headlines for winning the US Open, Black tennis players on the men’s and women’s side were also making history at the tournament. For the first time since 1968, four Black tennis players made the US Open quarterfinals, and specifically on the men’s side, the quarterfinals featured three American players for the first time since 2005. Frances Tiafoe, Ben Shelton, and Tommy Fritz advanced to the quarterfinals on the men’s side while Madison Keys and Gauff advanced to the quarterfinals on the women’s side. Tiafoe and Shelton faced each other in the quarterfinals, and although Shelton earned the victory, this was the first matchup of two Black American men since 2008, when James Blake faced Donald Young in the first round of the 2008 US Open.

Coco Gauff, Frances Tiafoe, Madison Keys, and Ben Shelton advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2023 US Open. Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

On Sept. 12, it was announced that the US Open Women’s Singles Final between Gauff and Sabalenka was the most-viewed Women’s Final of any tennis major ever on ESPN, with a total of 3.4 million viewers. ESPN’s press release also mentioned that Gauff’s victory ranked as the most-streamed telecast of the 2023 tournament on ESPN+ and the second most-viewed telecast for the US Open overall. Only Serena Williams’ final match in 2022 ranked higher for a US Open telecast.

The Americans made a triumphant return to the bright lights at the US Open as Gauff, Keys and Shelton all made it to the semifinals. Shelton followed in Tiafoe’s footsteps by becoming the second straight Black American male to make the men’s semifinals. Gauff’s win now makes her third ranked player in the world. Last year, Naomi Osaka said that it was “only a matter of time” before Gauff won a Grand Slam. After her US Open win, the sky’s the limit not only for Gauff, but for American tennis as a whole.

George Hamilton

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