Coco Gauff Wins the U.S. Open Women’s Single Title
(Credit: AFP via Getty Images)

After two hours and six minutes, Coco Gauff, the 19-year-old phenom, won the 2023 U.S. Open, her first Grand Slam title. Gauff defeated Aryna Sabalenka, 25, in three sets, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, NY.

Gauff is the first teenager to win the U.S. Open since Serena Williams won her first major title as a 17-year-old at the 1999 U.S. Open and the sixth Black woman to do so. Can we take a moment to call the roll:  Althea Gibson, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens, Naomi Osaka, and Coco Gauff.

“It’s an honor to be in that [company] with Althea Gibson, Serena, Venus, Naomi, Sloane,” Gauff said. “They paved the way for me to be here. I remember Sloane winning this trophy in 2017. It was an inspiring moment for me to see her win because I grew up watching her, and I have known Sloane since I was ten years old. Obviously, Serena and Venus, words can’t describe what they meant to me. I hope that I’m a (continuance of their) legacy. I hope another girl can see this and believe they can do it, and hopefully, their name can be on this trophy too,” she said.

Gauff got off to a shaky start as Sabalenka seemed on track to defeat her as Gauff lost the first set in 40 quick minutes. Sabalenka had reached the semifinals this year in all four Grand Slam tournaments, winning the Australian Open and entering the tournament as the No. 2 seed.

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Gauff’s experience paled in comparison. She had one Grand Slam appearance under her belt, the 2022 French Open, where she was beaten by the No. 1 seed, Iga Swiatek, 6-1, 6-3. A mere two months ago, in the first round of Wimbledon, Gauff was beaten by Sofia Kenin. A change was needed, and by Gauff’s own admission, she eyed a future change that would prepare her for a better 2024 season.

Gauff brought in new coaches, Pere Riba and Brad Gilbert, and began to play better and win more. But the nagging voices in her head continue to portray her as “inadequate.” Gauff would say at the post-match conference that she began to speak more positively about herself.

“I’ve been trying to speak more positively of myself and actually telling myself that I’m a great player.”

With a first-set loss against Sabalenka, Gauff took a bathroom break to calm herself, to remind herself that she could win the Open, and to reset.

Coco Gauff shed tears of joy winning her first Grand Slam title
(Credit: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

“I was nervous,” she said. “I put some water on my face,” Gauff said, returning to battle Sabalenka.

The reset worked. Gauff began to play consistently, and Sabalenka, a powerful baseline hitter, committed 46 unforced errors compared to 19 committed by Gauff. The crowd was team Coco, willing her to win every match point and to fight back. Gauff did and now a Grand Slam trophy has her name on it.

Gauff, overjoyed and overwhelmed by the moment, shed tears as she reflected on coming to Flushing Meadows as a kid with her parents, Candi and Corey Gauff, to watch her idols Serena and Venus Williams play. It was a full-circle moment for the teen. A passing of the torch.

“My dad took me to this tournament, sitting right there, watching Venus and Serena compete, so it’s really incredible to be here on this stage,” Gauff said

Gauff burst onto the scene four years ago when she defeated her idol Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon in 2019. Gauff was 15 years old and still in high school. Imagine the emotions as Gauff defeated Williams, 39 at the time, 6-4, 6-4. It was because of the Williams sisters that Gauff picked up a racket, and she told her so.

“I told her [Venus] that I wouldn’t be here without her,” Gauff said after her win over Williams.

Fast forward to 2023, Gauff thanked her supporters and those who did not believe in her:

“Honestly, thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me,” Gauff said. “I tried my best to carry this with grace, and I’ve been doing my best. Those who thought [you] were putting water on my fire, you were really adding gas to it, and now I’m really burning so bright.”

Gauff takes home $3 million for her win, the same amount that the men’s champion received, and she has Billie Jean King to thank for that. This year marked the 50th Anniversary of pay equity between female and male competitors. The U.S. Open began offering equal prize money to players after Billie Jean King advocated for change. She won the U.S. Open in 1972 but earned only $10,000 compared to $25,000 won by the men’s champion. King said she would not play the following year if the prize money were not equal. King’s advocacy brought change as all four Grand Slams now offer equal prize money to men and women.

Despite her loss, according to the Women’s Tennis Association, Sabalenka will become the world’s No. 1 women’s tennis player, and Gauff’s rank will become No. 3.