Cold Flashes and Hot Coco – The US Open Buzz

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Vinay Venkatesh

New York

COCO GAUFF – THE PSYCHIC WHO IS ON THE CUSP OF SUPERSTARDOM: What can’t Coco do? When she was 15, the wide-eyed kid beat Venus Williams at Wimbledon. Last year she reached the French Open final. In Washington this summer she won her first tourney on US soil and then beat the No. 1, Iga Swiatek, in Cincy, en route to the title. Here in the Big Apple she’s been the darling of the US Open, as she survived a couple of first-week scares, and tonight, on her sixth match point, she downed the formidable French Open finalist Karolina Muchova 6-4, 7-5 to reach the final. Just amazing.

Again we saw her resilience, her defense, her calm, her variety and her athleticism. What speed and anticipation. Gauff didn’t waver. She’s a winner.

Plus, this tennis player is also a psychic. This morning she told herself there was going to be a climate change protest at the Open. In the upper stands a guy glued himself to the floor causing a frustrating 50-minute delay. But eventually, it was Muchova, not Coco, who became unglued.

COCO ON PROTESTERS: Gauff spoke out about the protest that interrupted her match. She said, “Throughout history moments like this are definitely defining. I definitely, I believe in climate change 100%…There are things we can do better. I know the tournaments are doing things to do better…Would I prefer it not happening in my match? 100%…But I wasn’t pissed at the protesters. I know the stadium was because it interrupted entertainment.

“I always speak about preaching…what you believe in. It was done in a peaceful way, so I can’t get too mad…I wanted the momentum to keep going. But hey, if that’s what they felt they needed to do to get their voices heard, I can’t really get upset at it.”

SABALENKA HANDS KEYS DEVASTATING LOSS: Six years ago, Madison Keys had a huge opportunity. But in the final of the 2017 US Open against Sloane Stephens she came out flat. Tonight Madison, at long last, had another chance – an opening. to get to the final and gain sweet redemption: a US Open title.

This time Maddy wasn’t tight or tepid. She swept to a devastating 6-0 first set and used her power to gain a 5-3 second-set lead. But then she was broken at love and couldn’t serve out the match.

Sabalenka showed why she won the Aussie Open this year and why on Monday she’ll be No. 1 in the world. The Belarusian took the second set 7-6. But Aryna soon revealed some of her fragility as she was broken in the third set and went down 4-2.

But incredibly, Sabalenka is 9-0 in majors when she loses the first set. What an odd, counterintuitive stat!

Plus Keys was clearly hobbled and struggling with a thigh issue. In the decisive, lopsided third-set tiebreak Aryna powered her way to a 10-5 win. She’s now 22-2 in majors this year. But she has a 2-3 losing record against Gauff, whom she’ll meet in Saturday’s final.

GOOD NEWS: For a while it looked like the vitally important WTA Championships might go to Saudi Arabia. Reportedly, the WTA leadership was under great pressure, but now we know the championships will be going to Cancun, Mexico, October 29-November 5. But who knows about the future?

UNSPARING FASHION COMMENTARIES: Coco Gauff informed Frances Tiafoe, “You’re playing in confetti!”…After talking about her coral and red Nike outfit, Aryna Sablenka confided, “I feel like Barbie!”

THIS STAT MAKES NO SENSE, BUT WE GET IT: Daniil Medvedev said that, in order to beat Carlos Alcaraz, he’d have to play at a level 11 on a scale of 10.

FAINT PRAISE: When asked to compare the level of his play now to two years ago when he won the Open, Medvedev replied, “I’m definitely not worse.”

GO FIGURE: Ben Shelton is the youngest American male to reach the US semifinals since Andy Roddick in 1992…Coco Gauff is the youngest American to reach the women’s semifinals at the US Open since Serena Williams in 1999…Andrey Rublev is the godfather of Daniil Medvedev’s child…All four women’s quarterfinals have started with one player taking a 5-0 lead in the first set…Djokovic has played 16 US Opens. He’s reached nine finals and won three times…Novak has won 25 of his 26 matches here…Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury are through to the men’s finals and are hoping to win their third straight time…Canadian Genie Bouchard is retiring so she play pickleball.

BROTHERLY LOVE: After John McEnroe came back after a week’s absence from his broadcast booth due to Covid, he announced, “I made it!” He then turned to his brother Pat and said, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been so happy to see you.”

SISTERLY LOVE: Sloane Stephens left a note in the locker of her good friend Madison Keys. It read “Let’s do this baby. Keep on fighting. Always proud of you.”   

WHAT IF YOUR SHOWER WAS DIRTIER THAN THIS TRUCK? Here’s a New York tale of four trucks. You pass one that’s owned by Mensch Supply Company in the Bronx. Right by it there’s the Brothers Iron Work truck from Queens. Then, a minute later you realize you’re stuck behind a van that announces, “I hate waiting for my laundry and dry cleaning.” Then, if that isn’t enough, you spot a truck owned by the Jolie Skin Company with a huge sign that asks that eternal question, “What if we told you that your shower is dirtier than this truck?”

A PERPLEXING QUESTION: Why was France Tiafoe so subdued the other night when he played Ben Shelton? His play was often tepid. At times he almost looked shell-shocked. We wondered what happened to the charismatic charmer who beat Rafa last year and was the darling of the Open. Then again, fearless young players like Shelton with nothing to lose often morph into fierce warriors eager to bring down veterans with plenty to lose.

THE TENNIS SISTERHOOD: There’s a big four in tennis. Stacey Allaster and Amelie Mauresmo are the tournament directors of the US and French Opens. Sally Bolt is the CEO of the All-England Club and Jane Hrdilicka heads Tennis Australia.  

QUOTEBOOK:

“Chaos is typically not your friend on a tennis court.” – Broadcaster Michael Cation

“Ben Shelton is either going to be humbled by Djokovic or he is going to be free.” – Commentator Jo Konta

“To be honest, I couldn’t hear shit out here tonight.” – Madison Keys, on not hearing what her coach and fiancé were telling her.

“Daniil Medvedev likes to embrace the role of villain at the US Open.” – Jason Goodall  

“It’s incredible when I hear my name in the same sentence as Serena…I’m not even close to her accomplishments.” – Coco Gauff 

“Doubt is the killer of everything.” – US Open Radio 

“If something’s not working, being stubborn usually gets you beaten.” – Brad Gilbert

“Usually the first man who blinks in a tiebreak gets into trouble.” – Alexandra Stevenson

“Just because you crush the ball doesn’t mean you’re not a thoughtful player.” – Brett Haber

“Education is important, but tennis is importanter.” – Anonymous

THIS IS MY PARTY – I CAN CRY IF I WANT TO – NOT! Jessica Pegula said reports of her crying were a total no go, or should we say no flow. The displeased star noted, “Someone said I walked off the court in tears. I most definitely was not crying!”

JUST WONDERING: Now that coaching is legal in tennis, some say coaches should be able to sit courtside where they can really talk to their players. The fairly new coaching rule has had a big impact. 

THE BIG TWO: We used to have the Big Four, with Federer, Nadal, Novak and Andy Murray. Then Murray faded. And now, with Federer’s retirement and Nadal’s ongoing injury, Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz are a legit intergenerational Big Two. They’ve won the last five Slams, and have been trading the No. 1 and No. 2 ranking back and forth. 

Monday, Nole will again be No. 1. Each of their last four matches against each other have had fireworks. In particular, their Cincy final a few weeks back was the best three-set match in recent memory. Alexander Zverev observed, “They’re on a level of their own at the moment. Other guys gotta catch up. It’s as simple as that.” Coco Gauff said the two of them are “taking tennis to a whole new dimension.” 

INTO THE SEMIS BUT BELOW THE RADAR:  Madison Keys is in her sixth Slam semi-final. Only five active players have reached more than Keys – Venus, Azarenka, Wozniacki, Kvitova and her next opponent, Aryna Sabalenka.  

Of course, the young charismatic Americans Gauff and Shelton are drawing much of the Open’s oxygen. And this is fine for the “seen-it-all, done-it-all” Keys. Madison, who’s 28, quipped “I love that none of you talk about me anymore … It’s a lot off of my plate.”

FROM COLLEGE TO THE BIG LEAGUES: Since the NCAA men’s singles tournament began in 1977, the former champions who’ve made a Slam semifinal include John McEnroe (Stanford), Kevin Curren (Texas), Tim Mayotte (Stanford), Mikael Pernfors (Georgia) and Ben Shelton (Florida).

REAL CHANGES MUST BE MADE: Despite news of the WTA Championships being headed to Mexico, Jessica Pegula, who’s a member of the WTA Player Council, says if the WTA ever goes to Saudi Arabia she would like to see “some sort of change or action.” Jessie said it would take the Saudis donating money to women’s sports, women’s rights or some other good cause.

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