The eyes of the tennis world and of trophy-starved American sports fans will be on Coco Gauff heading into next week’s U.S. Open.
The 19-year-old American hopeful from Delray Beach, Fla., is peaking just in time for the final Grand Slam tournament of the year as she looks to claim the first major title of her promising career.
Gauff is coming off another breakthrough title after she won the Cincinnati Open on Sunday, beating the Czech Republic’s Karolína Muchová, 6-3, 6-4, in the final. It was the first WTA 1000 title of Gauff’s career and her third of the season, following wins in Washington D.C. and Auckland.
“This is unbelievable,” Gauff said after the match. “Especially after everything I went through earlier in the summer. I’m just happy to be here. I would like to thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ. I spent a lot of nights alone crying, trying to figure it out, and I still have a lot to figure out, but I thank him for covering me.”
To get there, Gauff had to earn a gritty win against No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the semifinals, 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-4.
In seven previous meetings with the world’s top player, most recently in this year’s French Open quarterfinals, Gauff hadn’t won a single set.
After some scuffles in the first part of 2023 that seemed to halt the one-time phenom’s ascendancy in the sport, Gauff has been on a striking run in the tournaments leading up to the Open. She won the Citi DC Open in early August for her first WTA 500 title, defeating No. 8 Maria Sakkari in the final, 6-2, 6-3, and she made it to the quarterfinals of the loaded Canadian Open before falling to fellow American Jessica Pegula.
With her latest trophy, Gauff became the first teenager to capture five career titles since Caroline Wozniacki in 2009, and has moved up to No. 6 in the world rankings (she peaked at No. 4 in October 2022).
With Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz dominating the men’s circuit, as they proved again Sunday in a thrilling Cincinnati Open final in which Djokovic prevailed, 5-7, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4), the odds of an American man breaking through for a major title appear as slim as ever.
This year’s Open will mark the 20-year anniversary of a 21-year-old Andy Roddick’s victory over Juan Carlos Ferrero, which remains the most recent major singles title by an American man.
Frances Tiafoe has failed to back up his run to last year’s U.S. Open semifinals during this summer’s hardcourt swing, and Taylor Fritz has not done much to offset a string of disappointments in recent majors (he hasn’t made it past the third round since last year’s Wimbledon and only twice in 28 career tries).
Thus the hope for Gauff and the renewed energy she will bring to New York in a week’s time.
She exploded onto the scene by making it to the Round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2019 when she was just 15 years old. In the star-making first-round win, she defeated Venus Williams, one of the players she has named as her greatest inspirations — who by the way received a wild card to compete at the U.S. Open at the age of 43.
Since then, there has been anticipation around when the young talent would hit her stride.
At last year’s U.S. Open, Gauff lost in the quarterfinals to France’s Caroline Garcia. This year, she advanced to the Round of 16 at the Australian Open and the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.
But her worst, most worrisome showing came at Wimbledon, where she was knocked out in the first round by Sofia Kenin.
Gauff’s uptick since her short stay in London — including wins in 11 of her past 12 matches — coincides with her new pairing with veteran coach Brad Gilbert, who mentored Andre Agassi and also guided Roddick to his 2003 U.S. Open win and 2004 Wimbledon final appearance.
This summer has brought disappointment for fans of the Stars and Stripes with the United States women’s national team World Cup flop.
If Gauff keeps up her current tear, her visit to Flushing may unfold differently — and end with a new level of stardom and the flag flying high.
Today’s back page
🏀 Knicks sue ex-staffer, Raptors, coach Darko Rajakovic over ‘thousands’ of stolen proprietary files
⚾ Yankees calling up prized prospects Everson Pereira, Oswald Peraza in hopes of a jolt … VACCARO: Yankees pushing Hal Steinbrenner’s comfort zone to its limits
⚾ Unheralded Mets keep making most of chances to spark rout of Braves … Mike Vasil could be first of next wave of Mets arms to get his shot
🏈 SERBY: Aaron Rodgers’ risky first preseason action shouldn’t be more than cameo
Next stop, Manila
The United States men’s national basketball team went undefeated in their five tuneup games ahead of the FIBA World Cup, which begins this Friday.
Before Team USA begins its first round against New Zealand in Manila, Philippines (which is sharing hosting duties with Japan and Indonesia) at 8:40 a.m. ET this Saturday, let’s take a look at some of the good and the bad traits evident in their exhibition games.
• 3-point shooting has been a work in progress: The U.S. got off to a hot start, downing Puerto Rico, 117-74, while shooting 56.5 percent from the field. Yet, their accuracy from behind the shorter 3-point line was an issue.
They shot a mere 22.2 percent (6-for-27) from 3-point ranger in the first game, and things didn’t improve much in Game 2, when they went 9-for-33 from deep (27 percent). But in beating Slovenia (minus a resting Luka Doncic) by 30, it wasn’t time to sound any alarms.
However, things turned around in their third game, an unexpectedly tight 98-88 win over top-ranked Spain as the Americans hit 55.6 percent from 3, led by a combined 7-for-7 performance from the Knicks’ Jalen Brunson and the Nets’ Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson.
The improvement carried over to a subsequent pair of victories, which saw the U.S. shoot 42.3 percent from behind the arc against Greece (a 108-86 win) and 44.8 percent against Germany (a 99-91 victory) on Sunday.
• This is Anthony Edwards’ team. The Timberwolves star has been given the keys to the offense by coach Steve Kerr, and thus far, he’s delivered. Through the five Showcase games, Edwards averaged 18.8 points on 50 percent shooting (not bad for a guard!) and two steals. Against Germany, Edwards helped the U.S. overcome a 16-point deficit with a whopping 34 points, shooting 11-for-21 from the field and 4-for-8 from 3.
• New York matters. The Knicks and Nets each have two players on the roster, and while Brunson and Bridges have started every game, Josh Hart and Johnson have chipped in off the bench.
That won’t get either team an invite to the NBA postseason, but it does give credibility to the rosters each club has put together.
Bridges and Johnson even cut their offseason vacations short to play for Team USA.
“Yeah, [it’s going to be] so much fun,” Bridges told The Post’s Brian Lewis prior to the start of the Showcase games. “It’s honestly just, like, a blessing to get the invite and be able to go. Obviously, it cuts the offseason short, but, I mean, it’s Team USA. That’s definitely something I’d rather cut it short for. So definitely excited, excited [for] the teammates and coaches that are going to be out there, and just ready to win.”
For his part, Brunson has shown his emergence as a star last season wasn’t a mirage.
“I think Jalen is such a natural leader,” Kerr told reporters. “Because he’s a point guard, he immediately comes to mind. He’s the one who’s leading the ‘1, 2, 3 USA’ chant. Some guys, it just comes naturally to them.”
Hurts so good
Ahead of the 2023 season, several faces and names have been highlighted to hype up football fans in anticipation of the fall pastime.
From cell phone ads with Josh Allen to NFL Films’ “Hard Knocks” featuring the Jets and Aaron Rodgers, there aren’t a whole lot of questions surrounding who are the stars to watch.
Then there’s Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, who takes his place on Sports Illustrated’s cover for their 2023 football previews.
After a breakout season that saw him take Philly to the Super Bowl, some may wonder if the 25-year-old SI has deemed “Philly’s new fresh prince,” is really all that.
To Philly, he is, and more.
The quarterback has what he described as a “starving” appetite for a Super Bowl title and has appeared to demonstrate a commitment toward improvement since at least his college days.
He is the Eagles’ soft-spoken leader who seems wise beyond his years, saying after the 38-35 Super Bowl loss to the Chiefs, “You either win or you lose,” before revising himself and proclaiming, “You either win or you learn.”
Hurts’ dedication to the task at hand — twice turning down a role in “Quarterback” to avoid outside noise — has made him a role model for the city.
“That time will come,” Hurts said of participating in the Netflix series. “There’s a lot of the journey to be told and there’s a lot yet to unfold that will be told one day, and that time will come.”
If last year was any indication, it could be quite a story.
Hurts played valiantly in that Super Bowl loss, attacking downfield (27-for-38 for 304 yards) despite nursing a sprained right shoulder and running for a team-leading 70 yards and three touchdowns, though he also lost a fumble.
He also led the Eagles on an 8-0 run to start the season, putting them at the top of the Super Bowl conversation. Two of their three regular-season losses came when he was inactive due to a shoulder injury.
The Giants will have Hurts twice a year for the foreseeable future — he signed a five-year, $255 million contract extension this offseason — or more if they run into the Eagles on their way to the NFC title, as they found out the hard way in last season’s 38-7 playoff loss.