Elliott: With U.S. Open loss, Coco Gauff not ready to take U.S. torch

Before Coco Gauff can embrace the proverbial torch passed when Serena Williams decided to step away from tennis, before she can lead a generation of US women to the lofty heights of Serena and Venus Williams, she’ll have to better herself against Caroline Garcias claim the world – players who lack Gauff’s gifts and athleticism but draw strength from their fearlessness.

Gauff, an 18-year-old Floridian, will crack the top 10 for the first time when the Women’s Tennis Assn. will update his world rankings next week. She will have her best performance on her resume at the US Open, where fans appreciated her youth and strength and big serves and adopted them as their own. She can be proud of having reached the quarterfinals in Flushing Meadows as the youngest American woman in 13 years.

But her run was stopped cold on Tuesday by Garcia, who set the tone by sweeping the first four games of her quarterfinals and outside in a 6-3, 6-4 win played under the roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium von Gauff’s increasingly frustrated reach remained.

“I think that was all her,” Gauff said generously and aptly, when asked how much of the loss was due to Garcia’s Excellency and how much to her own missteps.

There is no shame that Garcia has prevailed. The 28-year-old native of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France, deserved the win. Once world No. 4 and instinctively aggressive, she had retired after critics said she was too aggressive. Also hampered by a foot injury, she fell to 74th in the rankings late last year before hiring a new coach in Bertrand Perret. He took over the coaching role that her father had filled and persuaded her to listen to her instincts.

She is braver and not coincidentally more successful. She will go on a 13-game winning streak in her semi-final against Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, runners-up at Wimbledon this summer. Jabeur became the first Arab or African woman to reach the semifinals of the US Open in the Open Era (1968 and after) when she defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 6-4, 7-6(4) earlier Tuesday.

“The path is very clear at the moment, in which direction I have to go, under stress, under pressure,” said Garcia. “I’m just trying to follow that path.”

She was marginally ahead of Gauff in zero-to-four-shot rallies and five-to-eight-shot rallies, but notably won eight out of ten rallies that lasted nine shots or longer. Her fierce forehand and strengthened backhand applied pressure that choked Gauff, who slammed her racquet to the floor after sending a forehand into the net to give Garcia a break of serve to start the second set.

“Yeah, it’s definitely tricky, especially when you’re hitting good serves. I hit a couple of 120s [mph] On serve, the return came back faster,” said Gauff. “Normally you expect that to happen once or twice, but today it happened a lot to her.”

Gauff, seeded at No. 12 by Garcia at No. 17, had won their previous two encounters. Gauff had pulled off a solid win over Zhang Shuai in the fourth round – including a Dikembe Mutombo finger wave to indicate she wasn’t going to let anyone take that win away from her – and had every reason to believe she could take that momentum against Garcia. This was reinforced by her warm up.

Caroline Garcia shakes hands with Coco Gauff.

Caroline Garcia, left, shakes hands with Coco Gauff after Tuesday’s quarterfinal match at the US Open. Garcia didn’t lose a set in the tournament.

(Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

“I probably had one of the best warm-ups I’ve had at this tournament,” Gauff said. “I hit the ball really clean.”

And then Garcia took over. Gauff stopped her briefly in the opener with a service break that cut Garcia’s lead to 4-1, and she held serve in the next game, securing it with an ace. Garcia went up the line 5-2 with a forehand and won the set with a bad backhand from Gauff.

“I think she hit a lot of big shots, especially a few, like forehand down the lines, which I think hit some good deep balls. I knew that because she’s right over the baseline,” Gauff said. “The last few times I’ve played against her, I would say that she definitely hits the ball a lot better. Kudos to her and her team because I think she’s gotten a lot better since I last played her.

“I think overall it was a good level from her. I mean like I said after the game it was too good. That’s all you can do sometimes.”

In the second set, Gauff failed to convert a break point after an early service break in game six and Garcia took a 4-2 lead. They each held the rest of the way. The crowd roared at Gauff for a comeback she just couldn’t pull off.

Now it depends on how Gauff digests it, how she reacts to it, what she takes away from it, what makes her better.

To this point, she has consistently demonstrated an impressive maturity, handling ever-increasing expectations with grace and composure. She regretted the 24 unforced errors she made on Tuesday but wisely took an overall approach.

“It’s hard for me to be proud and disappointed. So I think I’m learning more about not being so disappointed in myself,” she said. “Overall, I am super proud of myself at this tournament. But I’m hungry for more. So maybe next year.”

Maybe like this. The sooner the better. This torch needs someone to carry it.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-09-06/column-coco-goff-caroline-garcia-us-open-tennis-recap Elliott: With U.S. Open loss, Coco Gauff not ready to take U.S. torch

Emma Bowman

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