Coco Gauff captures 2023 Western & Southern Open for biggest career title
By Nick McCarvel
There would be no place more special than Cincinnati for Coco Gauff to win the biggest title of her career.
Sunday the 19-year-old American did just that, holding off fellow major finalist Karolina Muchova 6-3, 6-4 in front of an energetic and vocal Western & Southern Open crowd that had backed the 19-year-old all week long.
The win makes her the first teen champion here since 17-year-old Linda Tuero won in 1968, and gives her a fourth career singles title after she won in Washington, D.C., just two weeks ago.
“This is unbelievable,” Gauff told fans on court after her victory. “Especially after everything I went through earlier this summer in Europe. There’s been a lot of ups and downs the last couple of weeks.”
Gauff was referring to her first-round defeat at Wimbledon last month, an exit that she used to re-tool her approach. She’s done so in part by adding coaches Brad Gilbert, Pere Riba and Jarmere Jenkins to her team.
With an aggressive game plan and exceptional service return games, Gauff built a lead in set two after claiming the first. She earned a pair of match points at 5-2 in the second, but failed to convert, with Muchova breaking and then holding. The American had another chance to claim the title at 5-4 serving, and said she shifted her mentality, securing the match on a missed Muchova forehand return wide.
“I told myself to ‘close how you know how to close,'” Gauff explained, saying that she was hitting not to miss at 5-2 up. “I think I’ll have to keep that in mind in my many matches in the future where I’ll have the opportunity to close.”
Gauff’s championship win in Cincinnati came as an exclamation point in a week that also included her first-ever win over world No.1 Iga Swiatek in the semifinals, a player whom she had lost seven matches (and 14 sets) against prior.
Ranked around 200 in the world a year ago, Muchova leaves as runner-up, but with a sweet consolation prize: She enters the WTA top 10 on Monday for the first time in her career.
“Honestly, last year was really tough year for me,” Muchova explained. “I was outside of 200. You have to accept it and fight through to find a way how to get back. I think I made it and I’m really proud of [that]. It makes me stronger because it’s not easy…. I’m happy that I am where I am now.”
Both top players lauded the Cincinnati crowd for its vocal backing on Sunday – and throughout the week.
“They’ve given me a lot of support, especially [against Swiatek],” Gauff said. “That’s one of the loudest crowds I’ve played in front of in my career.”
“It was really great week here in Cincinnati,” Muchova said. “I like to interact with the fans… the stadiums were full almost every time.”
Gauff especially enjoyed her first extended stay in the Queen City, saying she had made a trip to the movies to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – as well as appreciating the Midwest hospitality she received, too.
“Every day one of the chefs was giving me a pesto or basil leaf; it was my good luck charm,” Gauff explained, laughing. “I would never eat it, but he still gave it to me. I don’t think you’re supposed to eat it. Today he even came out of his way to give it to me.”
Whether it was the lucky leaf or not, there is no question of this: Coco Gauff is the 2023 champion. And she heads to the US Open as one of the favorites to win her first Grand Slam title.
“I’m going to give it my all at the US Open,” Gauff said. “If things go great, that’s exciting. If not, I go back and work hard and get ready for the next one.”
“[Today was about] accepting the good with the bad; just keep persevering. So that’s what I’m going to do in US Open. I think this match really taught me a lot really for my whole career.”