Over the past two years of her young career, Coco Gauff has stared down Iga Swiatek seven times across three different continents. The 19-year-old has faced no other player as frequently and on paper it should be a tantalising match-up between the undisputed No 1 and the highest-ranked teenager in the world.
Instead, from Gauff’s perspective, it had been a disaster. Not only had she lost all seven of their meetings and all 14 of their sets before this week, but she wasn’t even close. In their last six meetings, Gauff averaged just four games per match.
But Gauff has made significant progress this summer and on Saturday afternoon in their eighth meeting, she produced the most significant victory of her career so far. After three tense, gripping sets across nearly three hours, Gauff kept her nerve to topple Swiatek 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-4 and reach her first career WTA 1000 final in Cincinnati.
“It feels good,” said Gauff of finally beating Swiatek. Then she laughed as she referenced Novak Djokovic’s 19-0 record against Gaël Monfils.
“To be honest, I don’t know if I was thinking too far ahead. No offence to Gaël, but I did not want that record, like the Novak and Gaël record. I didn’t want that. Yeah, I’m really trying to cut this down as much as possible. So hopefully I can face her again and get the numbers up.”
In the men’s draw, Carlos Alcaraz, the top seed, recovered from match point down against Hubert Hurkacz before winning 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3 to reach the Cincinnati final. Alcaraz faced a match point at 5-4 in the second set and then dug himself out of a 4-1 deficit in the second set tiebreak, spectacularly winning the final six points before easing to victory in the third set.
Alcaraz will face Novak Djokovic, the No 2 seed, in the final after Djokovic defeated Alexander Zverev 7-6 (5), 7-5 on Saturday night. It will be their first encounter since Alcaraz’s triumph over Djokovic in the Wimbledon final.
Gauff will next face the French Open finalist Karolina Muchova, who defeated Aryna Sabalenka, the No 2 seed, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-2 in a repeat of their dramatic semi-final in Paris.
Throughout their seven prior encounters, which included last year’s French Open final, Swiatek consistently dismantled Gauff by overpowering the American with her greater weaponry and piling relentless pressure on Gauff’s forehand until it inevitably collapsed.
Still, Gauff had reason to be more hopeful on Saturday. Since losing in the first round of Wimbledon, Gauff has found her feet in the North American hard-court swing. She hired Brad Gilbert – the former coach of Andre Agassi, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick – alongside her new coach, Pere Riba, and they have helped Gauff to gain more confidence in her forehand by focusing on her footwork. Earlier this month, she won the biggest title of her career in Washington, a WTA 500 event.
“I really didn’t have any expectations,” said Gauff of her plans in North America after her Wimbledon loss. “I was telling myself that I’m putting the work in in practice and I do believe that hard work pays off – I don’t know when it’s gonna pay off but it’ll pay off eventually. I guess it’s paying off now. I told myself I can either let this crush me or make me rise. I decided to make myself rise from it.”
Throughout the opening set, Gauff showed her toughness by recovering from a 3-5 deficit and then two set points on her serve. Having failed to take her chances, it was Swiatek who was visibly shaken in the tie-break, her unforced errors flowing as Gauff took her first ever set of the match-up.
Swiatek’s inevitable response came quickly and she forced a third set, but Gauff refused to buckle. She served incredibly well as the pair reached 3-3, then her supreme defence elicited the decisive break. Gauff navigated two incredibly difficult service games to close out the match. Although her first serve eluded her in the final moments, Gauff boldly attacked her second serve, normally a significant weakness, and she held on to secure a monumental win.
Despite falling short of the title in Cincinnati, Swiatek heads to New York for her title defence having further demonstrated her consistency by reaching consecutive semi-finals in Montreal and Toronto after winning at home in Warsaw. While there will be numerous contenders, Swiatek will remain the player to beat at the US Open.
“For sure, there are things that I want to work on. It’s always like that when you lose. But overall today I fought till the end. That’s something that I should be proud of,” said Swiatek.