NEW YORK –
Raising a fist then wagging her right index finger, Coco Gauff responded to a loud-loud-loudest crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium who stood and screamed, angering them even more. Gauff’s US Open opponent Zhang Shuai covered both ears with her hands to protect them from what she later described as “Boom!” of sound.
Gauff and her fans reacted excitedly to a point where the 18-year-old Floridian darted to the right for a defensive forehand, then changed direction to sprint and slide into a backhand that drew a netted volley from Zhang. Only four points later, Gauff was in the quarterfinals for the first time in Flushing Meadows.
Gauff, runner-up at June’s French Open, came back in every set to beat China’s Zhang 7-5, 7-5 on Sunday, becoming the youngest American to make it that far at the US Open , since Melanie Oudin was 17 years old in 2009 .
“I can’t hear myself screaming here. Makes you want more. I think I feed on the dynamic a lot. I enjoy it,” said Gauff, number 12, who meets number 17 Caroline Garcia of France on Tuesday . “New York brings out a side of me that I haven’t had since I was 15, so it’s nice.”
After falling 5-4 in the opening set and trailing 5-3 in the second set that put her just a point away from defeat, Gauff was spurred on by the crowd cheering her on at every point and saying, “Let’s go, Coco !” sang. as the end neared. She improved to 4-0 at Ashe this year, having previously never won a match in the biggest arena in Grand Slam tennis.
How loud was it?
“It got so bad in there I got a headache. I had to take an Advil,” Gauff’s father, Corey, said. “I kept pinching myself. I thought, ‘Gosh, all these people here because of my daughter.’ You dream of it, but you never know if you’ll make it happen. She pumped up and they responded to her. It sent shivers down my spine.”
Zhang, at 33 the oldest woman to reach the fourth round, said it was more noise than she had ever heard at a game.
She praised Gauff’s game, calling her “a superstar” and adding: “Everything is very good. She’s so much younger than me. Her energy is so much better. She’s faster. She’s strong.”
They competed mostly from the baseline, and the longer the exchange, the more success Gauff had: She maintained a 45-26 point lead that lasted five or more shots.
Garcia clinched a hard-court title in Cincinnati and extended her winning streak to 12 games by eliminating No. 29 Alison Riske-Amritraj of the USA 6-4, 6-1
“I’m really very excited to play Coco – in the USA, in New York, in the quarterfinals of a Slam. It’s great,” Garcia said.
None of the eight women in action Sunday had ever survived the fourth round at Flushing Meadows; Only two have reached the semifinals at a Grand Slam tournament: Gauff and No. 5 Ons Jabeur.
Jabeur, a finalist at Wimbledon in July, was due to meet Veronika Kudermetova (No. 18) at night.
That should follow the much-anticipated men’s match on Day 7: reigning champion and top seed Daniil Medvedev against Wimbledon runners-up Nick Kyrgios. When they met on a hard court in Montreal last month, it was Kyrgios who won.
Whoever emerged from it faced No. 27 Karen Khachanov, who defeated No. 12 Pablo Carreno Busta 4-6 6-3 6-1 4-6 6-3.
The other quarterfinal in the upper half of the men’s division is 2022 French Open runner-up Casper Ruud versus 2021 Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini.
Ruud, number 5, reached his first US Open quarterfinal – and stayed in the hunt for the number 1 until the end of the tournament – with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-2 victory about Corentin Moutet. Berrettini defeated Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.
At Gauff-Zhang, the whirr of the retractable Ashe roof closing accompanied the start of the second set, as showers set in shortly after and it took a while for the artificial lights to reach full strength. The game went on, even though it was quite dark – and quite humid – inside.
Zhang got a little better with the back-and-forth midway through the second set, and when she hit a backhand winner herself, she broke to lead 5-3.
Last year’s US Open doubles champion – she and Sam Stosur beat Gauff and Caty McNally in the final – served to force a third set and was just a point away from getting there, but Gauff steeled herself and held her own.
That set point was squandered when Zhang sent a long backhand. Gauff smacked his lips – what else? – a down-the-line backhand winner for her third break point of the game, then delivered a good return on a corner that pulled a long backhand to make it 5-4 and a four-game run to finish of the game to begin.
Everyone already knows how talented Gauff is. After all, she became the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history at 15 in 2019, beating Venus Williams in the first round of the peloton and making it to fourth. There have been more steps along the way, more accomplishments – last month she became the second-youngest doubles No.1 in WTA history – and her ever-evolving game – the most notable recent improvements being her forehand and second serve – is bringing her ever closer to the top of the singles rankings and closer to a Grand Slam title.
And at this point, having the full sport of 20,000+ people in Ashe doesn’t hurt either.
“She found a home there,” Dad said. “I hope she will play there for the rest of the tournament.”
AP sportswriter Dan Gelston contributed to this report.