By Howard Fendrich
Coco Gauff is the first American teen since Serena Williams more than two decades ago to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals two years in a row, so the 19-year-old from Florida knows her way out of trouble on a tennis court.
As the second set slipped away against Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round Sunday at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Gauff needed a chance to think things through after handing over a break with a pair of double-faults and a stumble that left her doing the splits.
So Gauff turned in the direction of the near-constant chatter coming from Brad Gilbert, one of her two coaches sitting in a front-row seat, and said, “Please stop.” A couple of minutes later, Gauff said, “Stop talking.”
That was while Wozniacki was grabbing four consecutive games to go up a break in the third set. And then, just as the match seemed to be slipping away thanks in part to a slew of unforced errors, Gauff straightened out her strokes and pulled way. She collected the last six games for a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Wozniacki, the 33-year-old mother of two who recently came out of retirement.
“I was getting frustrated. It wasn’t really directed at him. It was just that I needed to reset,” the sixth-seeded Gauff said. “In that moment, I just didn’t want to hear anything. I just wanted to think about what I was doing.”
Her next opponent will be No. 20 seed Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion. Ostapenko beat defending champion Iga Swiatek 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 on Sunday night, after 23-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic picked up a 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 victory over qualifier Borna Gojo.
Djokovic faces No. 9 Taylor Fritz of the U.S. on Tuesday. It'll be Djokovic's 13th quarterfinal at Flushing Meadows, and Fritz's first.
Gauff, whose best showing at a major was reaching the final at the 2022 French Open before losing to Swiatek, has now won 15 of her past 16 matches.
That run follows a first-round exit at Wimbledon in July and includes the two biggest titles of her career, at the DC Open and in Cincinnati. It also coincides with the additions of Pere Riba as her full-time coach and Gilbert in a role that’s been described as a temporary consultant.
TV microphones have been picking up Gilbert repeatedly offering his thoughts to Gauff during matches over the past week.
Against Wozniacki, the 2018 Australian Open champion and twice the runner-up in New York, Gauff was trying to find the right balance between being the aggressor (what she wanted) and not going for too much (what Gilbert wanted).
Gilbert's “scouting reports are quite accurate,” Gauff said. “Sometimes you have to change things up. Today I had to change things up.”
It was the hottest day of the event so far, with the temperature reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius), and Gauff kept missing the mark in the second set, to the tune of 22 unforced errors. But she cleaned that up considerably down the stretch, with just eight miscues in the last set. Also key in the third: Gauff compiled an 11-2 edge in winners.
“She’s always been a great athlete. She’s always had the backhand, the serve, the fighting spirit,” Wozniacki said. “I feel like right now, it’s all kind of coming together for her.”
In the third set, with the playing surface covered in shadows, Wozniacki told chair umpire Louise Azemar Engzell it was difficult to see the ball and requested that the stadium lights be turned on.
“I would really appreciate it,” Wozniacki said.
“She’s back and it's like she never left," Gauff said, “To be out here on the court with her today was an honor.”
Another women's quarterfinal matchup will be No. 10 Karolina Muchova against No. 30 Sorana Cirstea.
There is guaranteed to be at least one American man in the semifinals for the second year in a row. That's because No. 10 Frances Tiafoe, who got to that stage 12 months ago, and unseeded Ben Shelton set up a quarterfinal meeting with wins Sunday.
Fritz made it three men from the United States in the quarterfinals — the most since Andre Agassi, James Blake and Robby Ginepri got there in 2005 — by overwhelming Swiss qualifier Dominic Stricker 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4.
In the day’s first match in Ashe, the 20-year-old Shelton hit a pair of aces at 149 mph (240 kph) — the fastest by anyone all tournament — in a single game and earned a debut trip to the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows by eliminating No. 14 Tommy Paul 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.
When the match ended, the muscle-shirt-wearing Shelton flexed his left biceps while standing under the section of seats where his father, a former touring pro who now coaches Ben, mother and sister were.
“Straight adrenaline,” Shelton said about those big lefty serves.