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Coco Gauff reaches U.S. Open semifinals, youngest American to do so since 1999

Coco Gauff

NEW YORK, USA - SEPTEMBER 03: Coco Gauff of USA reacts during 4th round against Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark at the US Open Championships at Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York, United States on September 3, 2023. Gauff won in three sets and progressed to quarterfinal. (Photo by Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Coco Gauff swept Jelena Ostapenko to become the youngest American to reach the U.S. Open semifinals since Serena Williams won her first major title at the 1999 U.S. Open.

Gauff, 19, eliminated the 2017 French Open champion from Latvia 6-0, 6-2 to reach her second major semi after her runner-up at the 2022 French Open.

“I didn’t feel comfortable at all the whole match,” Gauff said, despite Ostapenko’s struggles (36 unforced errors to 12 winners, two days after stunning No. 1 Iga Swiatek with 31 winners to 20 errors). “Even on the match points. I know the game she plays, she has ability to come back no matter the score line.”

In Thursday’s semifinals, the sixth seed Gauff gets the winner of Tuesday’s later quarterfinal between Czech Karolina Muchova (No. 10 seed) and Romanian Sorana Cirstea (No. 30).

U.S. OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

At the 1999 U.S. Open, Williams, then 18, won her first of 23 Grand Slam singles titles. Older sister Venus, then 19, also made the semifinals that year.

"[Serena] is my idol,” said Gauff, who was born after Williams won her first six majors. “If you told me when I was younger that I would be in these same stat lines as her, I would freak out.”

Gauff rolled into the U.S. Open with an 11-1 record in the U.S. summer hard-court swing after losing in the first round of Wimbledon to countrywoman Sofia Kenin and adding Brad Gilbert as a coach.

She bagged the two biggest tournament titles of her career and beat Swiatek for the first time. At the Open, she lost a set in three of her first four matches, but on Tuesday endured not only Ostapenko’s aggressive play but also 90-degree heat.

“There’s a saying in basketball that defense wins games. In tennis, that’s not always the case, but today it was definitely the case,” said Gauff, who had 13 winners, 14 unforced errors and six break point conversions in seven tries. “The defense has always been there, but I’ve been improving my offense, and I think it’s showing and translating well onto the court.”

Ostapenko said she didn’t play well, in part because her win over Swiatek on Sunday ended just before midnight, she got back to her hotel around 2 and couldn’t fall asleep until 5 due to the adrenaline.

“You sleep for maybe seven, eight hours, but you completely don’t recover,” said Ostapenko, who swept Gauff in the Australian Open fourth round in January. “Yesterday the whole day I felt very low energy. I thought today I was going to wake up and feel better, but honestly, I didn’t really feel much better.

“Not really [affected by] the heat, but it was very hard to see the ball, because half of the court was in the shadow and half was in the sun.”

Ostapenko said she had been told shortly after beating Swiatek that her match with Gauff would be in Tuesday’s night session. Then the schedule came out on Monday, and she was first up on Arthur Ashe Stadium at noon, 36 hours after finishing Swiatek.

“I was a little bit surprised, not in a really good way,” she said.

Later Tuesday, Novak Djokovic swept No. 9 seed Taylor Fritz, the highest-ranked American man, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 for a place in the semifinals.

Djokovic reached his 47th career Grand Slam semifinal, breaking his tie with Roger Federer for the men’s record.

Djokovic is two wins from a 24th Grand Slam singles title, which would tie Margaret Court’s record. Fritz dropped to 0-8 against Djokovic and 0-2 in major quarterfinals (facing Rafael Nadal and Djokovic).

Americans Frances Tiafoe (No. 10 seed) and Ben Shelton face off at night in the other quarterfinal in the bottom half of the draw.

Tiafoe reached the semifinals last year, falling in five sets to eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz. Shelton, in his first full year on tour, made the Australian Open quarterfinals in January then didn’t win back-to-back tour-level matches again until this tournament.