The fourth round of the US Open was a grind for Coco Gauff from the start. After finally reaching the second week of the US Open, the American was given all she could handle in a 7-5, 7-5 win over 36th-ranked Shuai Zhang of China.
The first game of the match lasted over ten minutes with Zhang fighting off two break points in order to hold serve and prevent Coco Gauff from getting out to an early advantage. The two women would then proceed to trade powerful groundstrokes for the entirety of the first set, rocketing forehands and backhands across the set in the hopes of beating the other into submission.
It appeared that Coco Gauff had gained an advantage when she broke to take a 4-3 lead. Given how well the 18-year-old American had been serving during the tournament, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that she would push out to a 5-3 lead and take control of the first set.
However, she double-faulted on the first point of the game, which, unfortunately, became a bit of a trend as the match wore on. In total, Gauff would double-fault eight times in the match, an area that needs to be cleaned up as she advances deeper into the US Open.
Despite her success in her young career, this was the first time Coco Gauff had ever advanced beyond the third round of the US Open. Perhaps the nerves, even against an unheralded player like Zhang, were getting to her. Perhaps she just didn’t have her A-game.
After being gifted the double-fault, Zheng then stood in against Coco Gauff’s powerful first serves and extended rallies, forcing Gauff to cover extensive ground. She would force two errors from Gauff before crushing an overhead to break and get the match back on serve.
After both women held in their next two service matches, the American found herself with another break point opportunity and the chance to go up 6-5. This time, she didn’t miss it, capitalizing on her first break point opportunity and then serving out the set in the next game.
In the second set, the two women continued to trade punches, staying on serve until 3-3. The young American started the game off with a forehand into the net and then double-faulted to give Zhang a 0-30 lead. She would battle back to make it 30-40, but Zhang was too good, firing a backhand winner to take control of the set.
Only, that control seemed to be short-lived. In the next service match, Coco Gauff battled for break point, but then slammed a forehand into the net. Zhang double-faulted on the next point to give Gauff another chance, but Gauff hit a backhand into the net this time. After Gauff mishit yet another groundstroke long, it seemed like Zhang would hold serve and win the set, but she too mishit a groundstroke long.
Gauff responded by firing a backhand winner, and then hitting a forehand on the next point deep into the corner, forcing Zhang’s return long. Gauff had broken back and was right back in the set.
That was the tenor of the match. Zhang is 33 years old and in the middle of her best run ever at the US Open. Coco Gauff is 18 years old and on the precipice of being the face of American tennis. They both needed this match for various reasons, so they were simply going for it on every point.
It wasn’t always flawless, but it was assertive and energetic and one heck of a match.
Gauff was consistently inconsistent until the end of the match.
After cutting Zhang’s second set lead to 5-4, Gauff would give her opponent an opportunity during her service game by double-faulting – again – to go down 15-30, but she battled back and ended the game with an authoritative ace to even things up at 5-5.
After easily breaking Zhang without losing a point, Gauff and the crowd screamed up to the closed roof at Arthur Ashe. They knew that victory was within reach.
After losing the first point of her service game, Gauff put on an epic display of athleticism. She covered every inch of the court on multiple shots that should have been winners, each one seemingly more impossible to get to until the next. But she reached all of them until Zhang mishit a volley into the net. It was crushing for Zhang and exhilarating for Gauff of the crowd.
But Gauff would double-fault on the next point.
The 18-year-old responded as she had all match. She fired a backhand winner to get to match point and then withstood a long rally to earn the victory and her first trip to the quarter-final at the US Open.
While it wasn’t perfect, these are the types of matches the young budding star needs to win. She didn’t have her best tennis, but she found a way. She dug herself into holes with the double faults and 25 unforced errors, but she battled back out of them. She kept her head in the match and was simply more consistent than her opponent.
At the end of the day, all you need to do is advance. Nothing else really matters at a Grand Slam. If Gauff is able to learn how to claw herself to victory when she’s not at her best, then there might be little to stand in her way over the next couple of decades.
She will now advance to the quarter-finals to take on Caroline Garcia of France, who easily dispatched American Alison Riske-Amritraj 6-3, 6-1 on Sunday.