Coco Gauff, 18, reaches US Open quarterfinals for 1st time

“It feels insane. I mean, Ashe Stadium chanting my name?” Gauff said.

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Coco Gauff reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals for the first time by coming back in each set to beat Zhang Shuai of China 7-5, 7-5 in front of a partisan crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday.

The 18-year-old Floridian, the runner-up at the French Open in June, trailed 5-4 in the opening set, then 5-3 in the second, which she was a point from losing. 

But buoyed by spectators who cheered her every point, chanted “Let’s go, Coco!” as the end neared and prompted Zhang to cover her ears with her hands, Gauff improved to 4-0 in Ashe this year. She’d never previously won a match at the biggest arena in Grand Slam tennis. 

Coco Gauff, of the United States, celebrates after defeating Shuai Zhang, of China, during the fourth round of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

“It feels insane. I mean, Ashe Stadium chanting my name?” Gauff, yet to drop a set in the tournament, said during her on-court interview. “I was trying not to smile on the bench on the changeover. I was trying to stay in the moment.”

Gauff is the youngest American woman into the U.S. Open quarterfinals since Melanie Oudin was 17 in 2009.

Gauff also was the player from any country in the fourth round of the women’s bracket at Flushing Meadows this year. Zhang, at 33, was the oldest.

They both competed mostly from the baseline, trading powerful groundstrokes, especially on the backhand side, which both players favor. And the longer the exchanges, the more success Gauff found: She claimed 45 points that lasted five or more strokes, while Zhang won 26 of those.

Now the 12th-seeded Gauff will move on to face No. 17 Caroline Garcia of France, who is playing as well as anyone at the moment, coming off a hard-court title at Cincinnati right before play began in New York.

Garcia eliminated No. 29 Alison Riske-Amritraj of the U.S. 6-4, 6-1 to, like, Gauff, earn her debut berth in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.

Indeed, none of the eight women in action Sunday had ever been past the fourth round at Flushing Meadows before; only two have ever been to the semifinals at any Grand Slam tournament: Gauff and No. 5 Ons Jabeur, once apiece.

Jabeur, who got to the final at Wimbledon in July, was scheduled to meet No. 18 Veronika Kudermetova at night.

That was to follow the most-anticipated men’s match of Day 7: defending champion and top-seeded Daniil Medvedev vs. Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios. When they met last month on a hard court at Montreal, it was Kyrgios who won.

Whoever emerged from that would be facing No. 12 Pablo Carreño Busta or No. 27 Karen Khachanov in the quarterfinals. 

The other quarterfinal on the top half of the men’s bracket will be 2022 French Open runner-up Casper Ruud against 2021 Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini.

No. 5 seed Ruud made it to his first U.S. Open quarterfinal — and stayed in the hunt to attain the No. 1 ranking by tournament’s end — with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-2 victory over Corentin Moutet at Ashe to begin the day.

“It has been a dream of mine to play on this court at least one time in my career,” Ruud said. “Now I have a win here as well, so I can tell my future kids and grandkids that I played here and that will be a fun story to tell. It was amazing.”

Berrettini, a 2019 semifinalist in New York, defeated Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.

“I’m really proud, because I didn’t start the match the way I wanted to,” said Berrettini, who pulled out of Wimbledon this year after testing positive for COVID-19. “I was down a set and a break. I found the right energy. I have to say I was a little bit tired in the fourth, and he was playing unbelievable tennis. I lost the fourth, and I was like, ‘OK, now I’m going to give everything.’”

Gauff kept creating opportunities with her best shot, a down-the-line backhand. That’s what forced the error by Zhang to hand over a break for a 6-5 lead for the American. It’s what produced a winner to close out the first set.

The whirring of the Ashe retractable roof being pulled shut accompanied the start of the second set because of showers that started soon after, and it took a while for the artificial lights to reach full strength. The match proceeded, even though it was rather dark — and quite humid — indoors.

Coco Gauff, of the United States, returns against Shuai Zhang, of China, during the fourth round of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

“The first two games were tough,” Gauff said. 

Zhang started getting a bit better of the back-and-forth midway through the second set, and when she hit a backhand winner of her own, she broke to lead 5-3.

The Grand Slam doubles champoin served to force a third set there, and was a point away from getting there, but Gauff steeled herself and stood her ground. 

That set point was frittered away when Zhang sent a backhand long. Gauff then smacked — what else? — a down-the-line backhand winner for her third break point of that game, then delivered a good return to a corner that drew a long backhand to make it 5-4 and start a four-game, match-closing run.

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