Linz | Gauff makes more history
Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff’s whirlwind week at the Linz Open got even better as the 15-year-old sealed her maiden WTA Tour Singles title on Sunday with a 6-3 1-6 6-2 win over Jelena Ostapenko.
’ll definitely remember this moment for the rest of my life Cori Gauff
Her rapid rise in 2019 hit another massive milestone, as the American teenage sensation made more history and is projected to rise inside the Top 75 in the WTA rankings on Monday.
This will ensure her future acceptance into Tour events as well as the Grand Slams, with no further need for wild cards or qualifying.
It is a stunning conclusion to an already noteworthy week for Gauff, who went from losing in the final round of qualifying to entering the main draw as a lucky loser and claiming her first-ever Top 10 win over Kiki Bertens in her maiden quarter-final.
The young American went on to reach her first tour-level semi-final and final before her 99-minute win over Ostapenko gave her the trophy.
“I want to thank God for always supporting me, like, I wouldn’t be here without him,” she told the crowd after the match. “It’s been an amazing week and I hope to come back in the future.
“I’ll definitely remember this moment for the rest of my life.”
Gauff, who started the season ranked well outside the Top 600, becomes the youngest WTA singles titlist since Nicole Vaidisova picked up titles at Vancouver and Tashkent by the age of 15 years, 5 months in 2004.
She also becomes the second player in the last two seasons to claim a debut WTA singles title as a lucky loser, matching the feat of fellow teenager Olga Danilovic, who was a lucky loser when she hoisted the trophy at the Moscow River Cup last season.
Gauff took the early lead in the final after fending off 2 break points in her opening service game.
The American notched a break for a 2-0 lead, using great depth of shot to draw errors from Ostapenko, and she consolidated by slamming an ace to reach 3-0.
Ostapenko began to find the range on her powerful groundstrokes, getting on the board for 3-1 after a wicked backhand down the line, but the Latvian could not garner any more break points in the set as Gauff served well and used drop-shots with aplomb.
The teenager reached set point at 5-3 with an ace, and she drew an error with a deep backhand slice to seal the opener.
The script, however, was flipped in the second when Ostapenko had to save a break point in the first game with an error-forcing forehand down the line, but then began to find her targets with her power strokes more frequently.
The 2017 French champion took advantage of a lapse by Gauff, breaking the American for the first time, to love, to lead 2-0.
Gauff pulled back on serve in the next game, but Ostapenko reclaimed her break advantage to lead 3-1 after a winning volley.
Ostapenko maintained her dominance with aggressive play inside the margins, earning another break with multiple winners to lead 5-1.
The Latvian converted her first set point in the next game with an ace, and the match was level.
The third set, though, swung back in Gauff’s favour, as she garnered a quick break to lead 2-0 after a backhand off the baseline forced an error from Ostapenko on break point.
In the second game of the decider, the umpire overruled a lines person’s call of out on a Gauff stroke, which caught the baseline, and then controversially decided that it was a late call, which didn’t affect an Ostapenko backhand that sailed wide.
Consensus was that the point should have gone to Ostapenko, but the umpire insisted it be replayed, infuriating the Latvian.
The decision saw Ostapenko broken and enraged, groaning: “Can you see the ball? Are you sure?”
She was handed a warning for her troubles, and her head dropped, as did her game, with Gauff seemingly en route to a comfortable victory as she stormed into a 5-0 lead where she held 2 match points.
Ostapenko’s ground game started to get back into rhythm, and the fiery Latvian staved them off and held on for 5-1, avoiding the bagel.
The former World No 5 began to find her targets again, and she broke Gauff to love to reach 5-2, hoping to earn a comeback win after saving match points.
Gauff’s father was called to the court at the 5-2 changeover and he told his daughter: “We’re not going to sprint to the finish line, we’re going to walk to it.
“Trust your shots. Calm down, take your mind to another place, to a practice match. Just play, don’t think about negatives just think about positives.
“Yesterday if you know you had 5-2 you’d take that, you’re in control.”
To the finish line, she did ultimately arrive.
As she had in Saturday’s semi-finals, the 15-year old regrouped in the next game, earning a 3rd match point following a netted backhand by Ostapenko.
This time, in fact, was the charm for the teenager, as Ostapenko fired a forehand just long, and Gauff joined the roll of WTA singles champions and more history was made.
She has enjoyed a stunning year, having become the youngest player to qualify at Wimbledon in the Open Era before storming to the 4th round, while also reaching the 3rd round in her home Grand Slam at the US Open.
Gauff is the youngest player on the WTA Tour to win a singles title since 2004 and youngest American since 1991. Venus and Serena Williams both won their first career titles at 17.
The comparisons between Gauff and the Williams sisters have run rampant since she became the youngest to reach the US Open girl’s final in 2017 at 13.
Gauff was born in Atlanta but grew up playing in Delray, Florida, a short drive from the home of Serena Williams, who she says is her idol.
She also works with Williams’ long-time coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
Tennis marketers have had their sights set on Gauff for a couple of years as a potential candidate to fill the void in American tennis when Venus, 39, and Serena, 38, finally hang up their rackets.
Gauff is one of the few junior players who has her own agent and is represented by Alessandro Barel Di Sant Albano of Team 8, the agency formed by Roger Federer and his long-time agent, Tony Godsick.
She signed a trio of multi-year deals with New Balance, Head and Barilla Group over the past year that will earn her more than $1 million off the court in 2019.
Add in $540,000 in prize money and Gauff is on target to make close to $2 million this year.
Tennis fans have gravitated to Gauff’s game and her matches at Wimbledon and the US Open drew big ratings on ESPN as well as huge crowds at the tournament sites.
Gauff will jump to No 71 in the WTA rankings after her victory in Austria but she is not able to play a full WTA schedule due to tennis’ age-eligibility rule, which limit the number of tournaments players can enter before they turn 18.
The rule is put in place to prevent early burnout after several high-profile cases, notably Jennifer Capriati, who turned pro at 13. A 15-year-old may play up to 10 pro events.
Gauff turned 15 on the 9 September and, as a result, the number of tournaments she can enter has increased from 8 to 10, and her team have taken advantage of this by entering both Linz and Luxembourg at this stage of the season.
Ironically, Gauff is currently meant to be playing qualifiers for WTA Luxembourg but has since been given a wild card directly into the main draw.
There will be little time for the Gauff team to bask in her Austrian glory as the teenager will now take her place in the Luxembourg main draw.
She is due to play 8th seed Anna Blinkova in the first round there, probably on Tuesday or Wednesday, and who would bet against Luxembourg becoming the next in the series of Cori Gauff wins?
That really would make history.
Followed by the tennis greats, this rare talent is clearly something special, encompassed by former American World No 1 Tracy Austin, who tweeted: “What a fabulous week for @CocoGauff! Her first @WTA title.
“So much talent, hunger and smarts. Can’t wait to watch her career unfold-lots of titles to come.”
As do we all.