19-year old Coco Gauff laid down a marker when she won the biggest title of her career, the WTA 1000 Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, that she is now well on her way to fulfilling the promise heralded since she reached the 4th-round at The Championships aged 15, stunning 7-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams along the way.
I'm really happy with how I was able to manage this week. I got a huge win yesterday, a big one today. Karolina, she's not an easy player. It's really good to see her back at the top. I think she's one of the most talented players on tour. Coco Gauff
Although she reached the French Open final in 2022, she scored the biggest victory of her young career when she won the battle of the last two Roland Garros runners-up by beating Karolina Muchova to lift the trophy on Sunday.
Earlier this year, though, she had lost in the 1st-round at The Championships to Sofia Kenin, prompting a change in her coaching team by adding Brad Gilbert, Pere Riba and Jarmere Jenkins, who have helped her re-tool her approach and re-set her mindset.
“These last couple of weeks have just been minor adjustments, so that makes me really excited when I actually have a break in the season to really improve,” Gauff commented.
The American has rewarded herself by first winning the WTA 500 in Washington, reaching the quarter-finals at the Canadian Open and, this week, beating World No 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland for the first time in 8 attempts in the semi-finals before downing Karolina Muchova in the Cincy final to win her first WTA 1000 title.
Gauff has now won 5 of her 6 career finals, adding Muchova to her growing list of scalps after handily beating the 26-year old Czech, 6-3 6-4, on Sunday in just under 2 hours.
“I’m really happy with how I was able to manage this week,” Gauff said in her on-court interview after the match. “I got a huge win yesterday, a big one today.
“Karolina, she’s not an easy player. It’s really good to see her back at the top. I think she’s one of the most talented players on tour.”
In the first career meeting between the two, Gauff overcame a sluggish start to hold off Muchova’s attacking net game, and, with steady work from the baseline, the American held the Czech to just 4 winners in the opening set, compounded by 13 unforced errors.
Muchova came into her first WTA 1000 final, having spent over 10 hours on the court, with all her completed matches going a full 3 sets during the week.
After a two-and-a-half-hour effort to upset World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka in the semi-finals on Saturday, the Muchova struggled to match Gauff’s energy.
“I was a little tired coming into the match,” Muchova admitted later. “I knew I have to play fast today, not be in the rallies, because it’s been many three-setters here for me, long matches, tough matches.
“To play day after day, and not have the day off, it’s very physical. In that, I was the worse one today.”
Gauff and Muchova twice exchanged breaks in the opening set, with the American coughing up 3 double-faults to lose the 3rd game and dropping serve again in the 7th, but a final break of the Czech off a backhand error handed the set to the crowd favourite after 44 minutes, who then went up 2 breaks in the second, giving back one before she closed out the victory.
The young American was broken while serving for the straight-sets win, but, 2 games later, converted on her 4th match point.
“This is unbelievable,” said Gauff, who became the youngest winner of the Cincinnati WTA title and the first teenager to win 5 career titles since Caroline Wozniacki in 2008-09. “Especially after Europe. I had a lot of nights crying, and trying to figure it all out, but this is great.
“I was going in practice, and I was working on it. It just wasn’t translating into the matches. It still can get a lot better, the things I want to improve.”
Gauff won 35 of 50 first-service points, 70%, and saved 6 of 9 break points, while she also broke Muchova’s serve 5 times in 8 opportunities, firing 16 winners with the same number of unforced errors in the final.
“Today, I really won it off of breaking serve, to be honest,” said Gauff, adding that she didn’t serve as well as she did in her semi-final victory over Swiatek. “I don’t know if it was nerves — I wasn’t that nervous, to be honest. Also a combination of the long match yesterday. I wasn’t serving as well.”
She had enough left in the tank, though, to get past a weary Muchova.
“I think that’s what makes a champion, is how you’re doing on the days you aren’t feeling so great,” Gauff said. “I think, physically, we were both feeling the impact of yesterday. I think for me, I was just able to persevere a little bit more in that final push.”
Gauff has won 11 of her last 12 matches since that defeat at Wimbledon, with her only loss coming against Jessica Pegula last week in the Montréal quarter-finals.
Muchova, who turns 27 on Monday, sees herself rise to her career-best ranking of No 10 on Monday.
“When I woke up this morning, first thing was like, ‘Ouch’,” Muchova joked in the trophy ceremony. “I knew it’s going to be a very tough task today, to win, especially someone like Coco, so I would like to congratulate you, to your team as well.
“You have some incredible run this weeks, and this year, and, more important, your team is very strong so congratulations for that.”
Ranked around 200 in the world a year ago due to injuries, Muchova, a former World No 16, leaves as the runner-up, but enters the WTA Top 10 on Monday for the first time in her career.
“Honestly, last year was really tough year for me,” Muchova explained. “I was outside of 200. You have to accept it and fight through to find a way how to get back.
“I think I made it, and I’m really proud of [that]. It makes me stronger because it’s not easy…. I’m happy that I am where I am now.”
Reflecting later on her week in Cincinnati, Muchova told reporters: “I’m really happy to make a top-10 debut, It’s always a thing that is in your mind when you play tennis, to make it to Top 10. It’s happening for me tomorrow, so that’s really nice result.
“Today’s match, yeah, I fell a little short today,” she added. “I was very hot. Coco played great. She kept me in the rallies… it was tough to keep up with her.
“She’s very fast. I would say she really gets to most of the balls, so you always have to expect that one more ball is coming.”
Since the tournament was reinstated in 2004, Gauff is the 4th American champion in Cincinnati, joining Lindsay Davenport, Serena Williams, and Madison Keys, and she will rise one spot in the WTA rankings to No 6 on Monday.
Both top players lauded the Cincy crowd for its vocal backing on Sunday, and throughout the week.
“They’ve given me a lot of support, especially [against Swiatek],” Gauff said. “That’s one of the loudest crowds I’ve played in front of in my career.”
Muchova added: “It was really great week here in Cincinnati. I like to interact with the fans… the stadiums were full almost every time.”
Gauff will be the No 6 seed at the US Open, which begins on 28 August, and must now be considered a credible short-list favourite for the title in the women’s field.
“I’m going to give it my all at the US Open,” Gauff said. “If things go great, that’s exciting. If not, I go back and work hard and get ready for the next one.
“[Today was about] accepting the good with the bad; just keep persevering. So that’s what I’m going to do in US Open. I think this match really taught me a lot really for my whole career.”