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Coco Gauff reaches U.S. Open final after 49-minute protester delay

Coco Gauff US Open

USA’s Coco Gauff celebrates a point against Czech Republic’s Karolina Muchova during the US Open tennis tournament women’s singles semi-finals match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City, on September 7, 2023. (Photo by KENA BETANCUR / AFP) (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Coco Gauff reached the U.S. Open final, outlasting Czech Karolina Muchova and a 49-minute delay due to a protester gluing his feet to the ground.

Gauff, 19, swept the 10th seed Muchova 6-4, 7-5 in an error-filled semifinal.

In Saturday’s final, the sixth seed Gauff faces No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who rallied past American Madison Keys 0-6, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5) in the later semifinal that ended just before 1 a.m. Friday.

Sabalenka, who will ascend to No. 1 for the first time next week, dropped just 21 games in her five matches before the semifinal.

U.S. OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

Gauff, in her second major final, will bid to end the longest Grand Slam singles title drought in U.S. history (since Sofia Kenin won the 2020 Australian Open, the last major before the COVID-19 pandemic paused sports).

“A lot to celebrate, but the job is not done,” she said.

The Gauff-Muchova match was delayed 49 minutes after the first game of the second set.

At least three protesters wearing T-shirts that read “End Fossil Fuels” caused a disturbance. At least one of the protesters glued his feet to the cement floor, which caused the extraordinarily long delay that led to the players leaving the court.

“The crazy thing is this morning I told myself, I bet there’s going to be a climate change protest in the final,” Gauff said on ESPN, noting similar protests at the French Open and Wimbledon. “I didn’t think it was going to be in the semifinal.

“The security guy said it could be five minutes. It could be an hour. ... I just treated it like a rain delay.”

Before the delay, both were off their game in the first set. Gauff went up 5-1, then got broken twice, then broke Muchova at love to take it (on four Muchova errors).

Gauff had four winners to 12 unforced errors in the first set (finishing with 13 to 25). Muchova had three winners to 17 unforced errors (finishing with 15 to 35).

Gauff held serve to open the second set before the disturbance. Muchova consulted with two people who appeared to be medical professionals early in the delay.

“I was not feeling it from the start until the end,” Muchova said. “I didn’t feel so good on the court.”

Upon resumption, the players exchanged holds of serve until Gauff broke Muchova to go up 5-3. Gauff then was broken while serving for the match, squandering a match point. She then broke Muchova two games later on her sixth match point after winning a 40-shot rally on the preceding point.

Gauff, the 2022 French Open runner-up, is the youngest player to reach a second Grand Slam singles final since Maria Sharapova in 2006. She’s the youngest American to make two major finals since Andrea Jaeger in 1983.

“When I played the French Open final, I think I was focused too much on the expectations that I had to win,” said Gauff, who lost that French Open final to then-No. 1 Iga Swiatek 6-1, 6-3. “I don’t think I believed in myself then.”

Muchova, 27, is at a career-high ranking in a bounce-back year after falling out of the top 200 during an injury-riddled 2022.

She was the French Open runner-up and made the final of the last top-level tournament before the U.S. Open, losing to Gauff 6-3, 6-4 (for Gauff’s biggest title of her young career).

The U.S. Open continues Friday with the men’s semifinals: No. 2 Novak Djokovic versus 47th-ranked American Ben Shelton and No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz vs. No. 3 Daniil Medvedev.