Coco Gauff powers past Karolina Muchova to reach 1st US Open final

ByABC News
September 8, 2023, 1:09 AM

NEW YORK --  Coco Gauff never wavered. Not when a big lead in the first set evaporated. Not when match point after match point went by the wayside. And not, most distracting of all, when her US Open semifinal against Karolina Muchova was interrupted for 49 minutes Thursday night by environmental activists -- one of whom glued his bare feet to the concrete floor in the stands.

It has been rather obvious for quite some time that Gauff is no ordinary teenager. Now she is 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 what was anything but an ordinary evening.

The toughest part for Gauff might have been closing out the victory: She needed six match points to get it done, raucously supported by a partisan crowd that chair umpire Alison Hughes repeatedly implored to quiet down.

After failing to convert one match point while serving for the win at 5-3, then another four in what turned out to be the final game, Gauff got the last chance she would need when she smacked a forehand winner to cap a 40-stroke exchange that was the longest of the contest. Muchova then missed a backhand to end it.

Gauff pumped her fists, waved to the fans and put a finger to her ear, as if to say she wanted to hear even more support.

"Some of those points, it was so loud, and I don't know if my ears are going to be OK," said Gauff, the first American teenager to make it to the title match in New York since Serena Williams in 2001.

"I grew up watching this tournament so much, so it means a lot to be in the final. A lot to celebrate," Gauff said. "But the job is not done, so hopefully you can back me on Saturday."

She was up by a set and 1-0 in the second when four protesters disrupted play from seats in an upper level of the arena. All four were arrested; three were escorted away relatively quickly, but it took more time to remove the person glued to the floor.

Both women spent time in the locker room during the delay. When action resumed, the play was pretty even for several games. Then Gauff surged ahead and got her first match point, but Muchova erased that with a volley winner and would go on to break back.

They would play on for nearly a half-hour.

With Gauff leading 6-5 and Muchova serving, the one-point-away count kept climbing. Muchova resisted. Gauff was unable to pull through.

Once. Twice. Three times. Four. In that game alone, Gauff kept getting so near to the finish line. The roars from the seats kept coming. Finally, Gauff completed her 11th win a row and the 17th in her past 18 matches, a run that began after a first-round exit at Wimbledon in July. The streak includes the two biggest titles of Gauff's career -- and now she needs one more win to get an even more important championship.

She was the runner-up at the 2022 French Open and will try to claim her first Grand Slam title.

The No. 6-seeded Gauff will face No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus or No. 17 Madison Keys of the U.S. on Saturday.

Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open in January and is guaranteed to move up 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.

"I may watch some of the match. Maybe not," Gauff said. "I haven't thought that far ahead, to be honest."

When Gauff and Muchova got started at 7:15 p.m. ET, it was cloudy and considerably cooler than it has been this week at Flushing Meadows, dropping from nearly 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) on Wednesday to the low 80s.

Gauff was terrific in the early stages: She took 12 of the first 16 points for a 3-0 lead after merely 10 minutes.

One real key in that stretch: Gauff did not let No. 10 seed Muchova, a 27-year-old from the Czech Republic, get comfortable at the net, where her varied style often pays dividends. Muchova lost the point on her first three forays forward -- and Gauff curled a perfect lob winner once in each of the opening two games. By match's end, Muchova had gone just 10-for-24 at the net.

"Just kind of sad about the performance," said Muchova, who reached the final at Roland Garros in June.

Gauff went up 5-1 before Muchova raised her level and pulled within 5-4. But Gauff broke to take that opening set.

Just a few minutes later, though, came the delay. At first, Gauff sat on her sideline chair, using a plastic fork to eat some fruit from a container. Then she got some tennis balls and stepped back on court to hit a few practice serves.

Muchova asked to be visited by a physiotherapist during the extended break, although it was not immediately clear why. She competed earlier in the tournament with tape near her right elbow and showed up for this match with a full black sleeve on that arm.

If she wasn't at 100% -- what player is by this point of the season? -- Gauff deserved credit for finding the right times to let Muchova miss as opposed to trying to get too aggressive. Muchova made 36 unforced errors, 11 more than Gauff.

"You have to be focused and finish points," Muchova said about the challenge that facing Gauff presents. "You have to be there on the court and then see where she is running. You have to think where to put the ball to finish it at the net or try to play it earlier."

What Gauff also displayed was her readiness for the moment, the sort of success predicted of her since, at age 15 in 2019, she became the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history and got to the fourth round there.