Chasing biggest title of their respective careers, Gauff and Muchova meet in Cincinnati final
By Nick McCarvel
Coco Gauff was only a few months old the last time a teenager reached the championship match at the Western & Southern Open, in 2004.
Sunday the 19-year-old will play for the biggest title of her young career, and also aim to become the first teenaged champion here in some 55 years, with 17-year-old Linda Tuero hoisting the trophy way back in 1968.
The Florida native will attempt to do so a day after her first win over world No.1 Iga Swiatek in eight attempts, a nearly three-hour clash that Coco said she tapped into her “warrior” mentality for.
“I was telling myself, ‘You’re a warrior, you can do this… you’re Coco Gauff,'” Gauff said on the Tennis Channel after her win on Saturday. “You have to give it your all against her. I felt it from the moment I stepped on the court; I wasn’t going to lose this match today.”
She’ll need a similar mentality in the final against Karolina Muchova, the tricky Czech player who is also chasing her biggest career title. The two players represent the last two runners-up performances at the French Open (Muchova this year and Gauff in 2022), though this time Gauff has knocked Swiatek out of the draw for them both.
“It feels good,” Coco said about her win over Swiatek, whom she had previously dropped all 14 sets against. “I think it gives me confidence that I have the ability. She’s a four-time Grand Slam champion, world No. 1. It shows that I can be at that level.”
Muchova, too, had a big win to arrive at this moment, taking out world No.2 Aryna Sabalenka in three sets on Saturday to follow up her triumph over Sabalenka in the French Open semifinals.
So the anticipated Swiatek vs. Sabalenka, world No.1 vs. world No.2, final showdown has instead morphed into two in-form and on-the-rise stars playing for the biggest title of their respective careers.
“I train for moments like this,” said Gauff about Sunday’s match-up with Muchova, which will be the duo’s first.
“I know she is a great mover, powerful,” Muchova said of Gauff. “I saw some rallies today when she played Iga. Very, very tough. So, yeah, I’m looking forward to that.”
Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, Muchova will move into the top 10 for the first time in her career, having been ranked world No.235 in August of 2022.
“I always was hoping and believing that I can be up there, but you never know,” an honest Muchova reflected. “In the past, my health was a big issue. It always stopped me. To be in top 10, I can say it for rest of my life that I was top 10 tennis player from all of the people. It’s great achievement.”
Gauff will again look to make inroads with her lethal serve, which she was particularly aggressive with against Swiatek. Muchova used her low slice backhand often in the semis to reign in the power of Sabalenka, a play fans could see plenty of on Sunday.
While it’s been 55 years since Tuero triumphed here as a teen, it’s only been four since Madison Keys, the most recent American champion, had her hands wrapped around the Rookwood Cup.
Gauff is hoping the home crowd can be as boisterous for her as it was during the Swiatek match.
“Today Cincinnati didn’t disappoint; I was happy with how they were behind me,” she said. “They definitely helped me a lot in [the big] moments.”
And Sunday? That’s a big moment, too – for both women.