Coco Gauff had never won a tournament in the United States. On Sunday, the No. 7 player in the world raised the trophy for her first U.S. title at the Mubadala Citi DC Open with a 6-2, 6-3 domination of No. 4 Maria Sakkari of Greece.
Gauff ended her resilient week in the nation’s capital, where she did not lose a set to take home her fourth career title and second of the season. The other being in Auckland, New Zealand, in January.
Gauff is the youngest champion in the history of the tournament. She is also is the first teenager to win four or more titles since Caroline Wozniacki and comes after a disappointing first-round exit at Wimbledon just last month.
It was just Gauff’s second victory over Sakkari in five meetings. Gauff credited her success in this tournament with new coach Pere Riba and Brad Gilbert for her improved serving and aggression throughout the week.
Gilbert, who famously coached Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick, said that he will also help Gauff in Canada and Cincinnati for the lead-up to the U.S. Open which begins Aug. 28.
“It’s our first tournament as a full team,” Gauff said on court. “I’m glad that we were able to make this result. I know those who were with me at Wimbledon, it was really tough a couple of weeks ago. We were all feeling it. I’m glad I was able to bounce back.”
In order to win her first title on home soil, Gauff defeated Hailey Baptiste in the opening round before locking in to topple three seeded players, Belinda Bencic, defending champion Liudmila Samsonova, and Sakkari. Her win over the Greek was her second Top 10 win of the season.
Sakkari entered the DC final with a 4-1 advantage over Gauff in their head-to-head. Both players were looking to move on from their Wimbledon disappointments, where both exited in the first round.
In their first meeting of the season, Gauff came out with conviction to muster up a 3-0 lead and was a point away from a double-break advantage. Sakkari narrowed the gap to 3-2 before Gauff shot down her attempt at a comeback and won the last four games of the set.
Sakkari broke the American to open the second set when Gauff missed a drop shot into the net. Gauff raised her hands to her head, walked over to the sideline and hit her equipment bag with her racket in frustration.
The lead quickly got to 2-0 for the Greek, but Sakkari double-faulted to get broken eventually to 3-all. Surprisingly, both her forehand and backhand errors kept coming. Sakkari would keep staring at her coach trying to find an answer.
Gauff would serve an ace to climb to 4-3. She broke again for a 5-3 lead and then closed it out on her second match point with a backhand winner.
Gauff’s serving was impeccable throughout the week and showcased a major difference for the final. Sakkari was able to break the American three times, but Gauff’s serve was geared up and reliable when necessary. Gauff won 72% of her first-serve points compared to Sakkari’s 46% and 43% of her second-serve points to Sakkari’s 33%. She finished the week with 25 aces, a tournament leader in this category.
Gauff was well aware of where she needed to improve before heading into the DC Open. Her forehand as of late had been far too inconsistent to make a deep run into tournaments.
“It doesn’t take rocket science to see how people are playing me…. I mean, it’s not a secret. Everybody is trying to play the forehand. Like, I’m not going to sit here and act like it’s some secret.” Gauff said.
“We all know that her forehand was always her weaker shot. I feel like now she’s improving that. She’s making more balls. She’s working on that,” Sakkari said.
Gauff knows that it’s necessary to keep her forehand consistent if she wants to achieve Grand Slam success in the future.
“I have to improve even more,” she insisted. “I feel like it’s improved so much where I don’t feel like it’s a liability. It’s becoming a weapon. I would say, I’m heading in the right direction.”
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Featured Image courtesy of Mubadala Citi DC Open