Monday, June 17, 2024

Coco Gauff and Francis Tiafoe Keep US Open Hopes Alive | PicsVideo

Ben Shelton comes of age, Taylor Townsend and Leylah Fernandez deliver 'doubles trouble'

Coco Gauff reacts during a women's singles match at the 2023 US Open, Sunday, Sep. 3, 2023 in Flushing, NY. (Manuela Davies/USTA)
Coco Gauff reacts during a women’s singles match at the 2023 US Open, Sunday, Sep. 3, 2023, in Flushing, NY. (Manuela Davies/USTA)

*Flushing, New York – Coco Gauff was up against a legend of sorts Sunday at the US Open. She had battled it out on the Arthur Ashe court against the un-retired Danish mother of two and Serena’s bestie, Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane had been away from the game for over 3 years but came back playing like she never left. (And yes, like the headline says, we’ll also break down Francis Tiafoe‘s match as well.)

Now, as far as Miss Gauf, she has had to dig her way out of trouble in matches in the first few rounds and this one was no exception. 

Caroline Wozniacki claimed a Grand Slam title before she retired (Australian Open) and is a former world number 1, but she’s never been known for power. That gave Coco confidence going in because she typically dispatches counterpunchers pretty handily. But motherhood apparently afforded the Dane another gear … she was matching Gauff’s power and her legs seemed just as young on the night. Gauff survived an early break and won the first set 6-3, but her opponent began chipping away at her service games in the 2nd, earning several breakpoints. 

Wozniacki eventually broke through to up 5-3 and served out the second set. 

Coco found herself down a set yet again and frustrated: “Just stop talking!!” she shouted at her box to stop her coaches from shouting out mid-play instructions. It was time for world-rated no. 6 to put it on lockdown, go inside, and work her black girl magic. 

“Sometimes I just need to clear my head when I go to my towel … they are sometimes talking over each other and my head gets filled,” she said. “They don’t take offense to anything, though.”

She drew from her previous comebacks this week and started the third set with determination and a new game plan. She shook off the disappointment, held her first two service games, and broke the Dane straight out of the gate for a 3-1 lead. 

It was important that she didn’t let off the gas from there … and she didn’t.

Coco went on to build an unassailable 4-1 lead and continued in lockdown mode. She broke Wozniaki’s serve again for insurance, going up 5-1 and a chance to serve for the match. She was firing on all cylinders. She got that serve cranking, knocked down several volleys, and most impressively, was thumping her forehands – a shot considered her weakness.

She closed the door on the Wozniacki comeback and lived to fight another round. She’ll next face winner-machine and former French Open champion, Jelena Ostapenko – who trounced her would-be opponent world no. 1, Iga Swiatek – in the quarterfinals. 

Francis Tiafoe reacts during a men's singles match at the 2023 US Open, Friday, Sep. 1, 2023, in Flushing, NY. (Mike Lawrence/USTA)
Francis Tiafoe reacts during a men’s singles match at the 2023 US Open, Friday, Sep. 1, 2023, in Flushing, NY. (Mike Lawrence/USTA)

Meanwhile, giant killer Francis Tiafoe was over on Louis Armstrong at the same time, razzling and dazzling the crowd with his big serves, deft shot-making, and jaw-dropping athleticism. He was up against Aussie, Rinky Hijikata, who had been coasting through a favorable draw up that point … but he hit the brick wall that is “Big Foe.” 

Tiafoe allowed the Hijikata to hang in there early in the first set as he loaded his guns, but it didn’t take long to do so … Tiafoe went on to win it 6-4 with a ninth-game break of serve.

It was all uphill from there. Then in full flight, Tiafoe quickly snatched the second set 6-1.

The third set was all but in the bag, but it wasn’t as straightforward. The qualifier put up a little resistance and took the score line to 4-6, then broke big Foe for 5-4. But that’s where that ended. Tiafoe quickly shook it off, got right back to firing, and shut the door, 6-6, 6-1, 6-4, for a spot in the quarterfinals.

The Americans were on a roll in New York … and had been all day.

Ben Shelton reacts during a men's singles match at the 2023 US Open, Sunday, Sep. 3, 2023 in Flushing, NY. (Mike Lawrence/USTA)
Ben Shelton reacts during a men’s singles match at the 2023 US Open, Sunday, Sep. 3, 2023 in Flushing, NY. (Mike Lawrence/USTA)

Ben Shelton, 20, is pretty fresh off winning the NCAA men’s singles championship as a college sophomore at the University of Florida, and now he’s packed his bags, snatched up his father – former tennis player Bryan Shelton as his coach – and joined the big leagues. He turned ATP pro just last year and he’s now on his second fairytale surge at a Grand Slam. Shelton made the Australian Open quarterfinals earlier this year and after a mini-draught, he’s just repeated the feat here at the 2023 US Open.

This just may be his coming of age.

The charismatic Atlanta native took out 14th-ranked compatriot and favorite to win the match, Tommy Paul, 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, with steely determination and college-like enthusiasm.

“Yeah, I think it’s really important that your team around you, the people in your box aren’t panicking,” he said. “When I saw that they were calm and they thought I was doing things the right way and I was playing well and ready to keep going, I took a lot of confidence from that”

And did I mention that he notched the fastest serve hit this fortnight at 149 MPH – twice in one game while bouncing his opponent?

He’s definitely on to something. Every Grand Slam has a Cinderella story, but given his results and that monster serve, Shelton may not need to worry about any pumpkin reversions in the foreseeable future.

Shelton’s next opponent is the aforementioned fellow American and favorite, Francis Tiafoe for an all-American quarterfinal showdown.

Madison Keys reacts during a women's singles match at the 2023 US Open, Saturday, Sep. 2, 2023 in Flushing, NY. (Mike Lawrence/USTA)
Madison Keys reacts during a women’s singles match at the 2023 US Open, Saturday, Sep. 2, 2023, in Flushing, NY. (Mike Lawrence/USTA)

Madison Keys is also still in the hunt, quietly making her way through the WTA draw with her thumping groundstrokes and stealthy serve. The 17th-ranked American appears to be playing with renewed inspiration as she flies under the radar at this year’s Open in hopes of getting her second chance at hoisting the trophy. She was beaten by Sloane Stephens in the 2017 final and is hungry for that do-over.  She’ll face world no. 2 and her good friend, Jessica Pegula – also American – for a quarterfinal berth. 

Taylor Townsend and Leylah Fernandez in action during a women's doubles match at the 2023 US Open, Sunday, Sep. 3, 2023 in Flushing, NY. (Brad Penner/USTA)
Taylor Townsend and Leylah Fernandez in action during a women’s doubles match at the 2023 US Open, Sunday, Sep. 3, 2023, in Flushing, NY. (Brad Penner/USTA)

In doubles action, Taylor Townsend has kept her US Open championships hope alive by calling upon her doubles skills; she’s ranked 5th in the world on that side of the WTA. To strengthen her chances of walking away with a trophy and a big check, she’s joined forces with former US Open finalist, Leylah Fernandez, in the women’s draw and, “man du jour,” Ben Shelton in mixed. And she’s apparently hitched her wagon to the right folk because she’s now advanced to the quarterfinals with both.

It’s forecast to get hotter and steamier in New York City as we go into week 2 action … and the matchplay is sure to follow suit!

Stay up with the action by checking your local listings for coverage information.

RELATED NEWS ON EURWEB: Francis Tiafoe and Coco Gauff Survive US Open Scares | PicsVideo

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