Gauff earns first win over Swiatek to make Cincinnati final

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CINCINNATI, Ohio — No.7 Coco Gauff advanced to her first WTA 1000 final after defeating No.1 Iga Swiatek 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-4 in the Western & Southern Open semifinals on Saturday. The victory is Gauff’s first over Swiatek, having lost their seven prior meetings.

Gauff will face French Open finalist Karolina Muchova in Sunday’s final. Gauff is the seventh teenager to make a WTA 1000 final, joining Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki, Belinda Bencic, Jelena Ostapenko, Bianca Andreescu and Swiatek.

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“No offense to Gael [Monfils], but I did not want that record, like the Novak and Gael record,” Gauff said after the match, referring to Djokovic’s 19-0 record against Monfils. I’m really trying to cut this down as much as possible. So hopefully I can face her again and get the numbers up.

“But it feels really good. It wasn’t necessarily, like, her as a player. I think it was just the moment, playing players like her. I think it gives me confidence that I have the ability. She’s a four-time Grand Slam champion, No.1. It shows that I can be at that level or compete with that level at least.”

Three takeaways from Gauff’s resilient victory:

Gauff laid the groundwork in Paris: Swiatek had won all 14 sets they played prior today. Their last meeting came at Roland Garros, where Gauff played one of her best matches against the World No.1 only to lose 6-4, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.

Gauff built on that potential game plan on Saturday. Having shored up her serve and forehand since Wimbledon, Gauff stayed with Swiatek from the baseline and protected her forehand wing well. Importantly, Gauff backed herself and played fearless tennis when it mattered.

“I was telling myself to still go for my serve,” Gauff said. “I think in the past she’s broken me fairly easy pretty much every match. I knew maybe my typical safe serve wasn’t going to work today.

“I missed a lot more probably than I’d like to in a normal scenario. But she’s one of the best returners. You kind of just have to take your chances.”

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Swiatek played a steady first set and capitalized on a weak service game from the American to earn a chance to serve out the set at 5-3. Gauff refused to let the thoughts of another missed opportunity enter her mind. She played an aggressive game to break Swiatek to get back on serve. When Swiatek earned a chance to close the set two games later, holding two set points as Gauff served to force the tiebreak, Gauff escaped again with the help of a gutsy baseline overhead winner. 

In the tiebreak, Gauff went on lockdown. Swiatek made three unforced errors to give Gauff an insurmountable 4-0 lead and the 19-year-old let out a defiant roar after sealing her first set in fifteen tries. Swiatek misfired on 21 unforced errors in the opening set. Gauff also held her to just 6 winners while tallying 10 of her own.

Swiatek problem-solves again: For much of the match, Swiatek’s devastating forehand was difficult to control. It is the shot that has been the difference-maker in their last seven meetings, but after dropping the first set with a slew of errors, Swiatek smartly dialed things back.

“In my career I didn’t lose many matches 6-2, 6-3,” Swiatek said. “When I lose, I always fight and I always try my best. Even if I’m playing not the best tennis, I can still play kind of [play] even tennis to my opponents. That’s a positive thing.”

After making over 20 errors in the first set, Swiatek made just 8 in the second set. She leveled out her forehand by giving it more margin and bigger targets, while using her backhand to control the court. Swiatek also worked to shorten rallies by coming into the net.

Despite all the adjustments, Swiatek still struggled with her break point chances. She generated 14 break points in the match but broke Gauff’s serve just four times. Gauff deserves much of the credit for those saves, as she backed herself, particularly in the third set, and went for her big serves. 

Gauff hung tough down the stretch: Swiatek went into the final set with momentum but Gauff refused to let her run away with the match. Neither player saw a break point in the first six games of the set but Swiatek had a fantastic opportunity with Gauff serving at 3-2, 30-all. In a corner-to-corner rally from both players, Gauff snuffed out Swiatek’s chance with a clutch backhand winner and then broke Swiatek in the next game. 

“I saw her hitting her leg a little bit towards the end,” Gauff said. “Usually when people do that, it was cramping. I don’t know if that’s true. “I think at least that motion gave me confidence that the longer this match goes, the better that I have a chance of winning.”

Swiatek fought back in the next game, winning three straight points from 4-3, 40-0 down to keep the pressure on Gauff and earn a break-back point. Gauff snuffed out the comeback with the help of three unreturnable serves to hold.

Serving for the win at 5-4, Gauff called upon her resilience again. After Swiatek gamely saved three match points and earned a break point of her own, Gauff held her off to close out the win on her fourth match point after 2 hours and 50 minutes.

“Coco, for sure, she played great tennis,” Swiatek said. “I got to check, but I think her first serve was better than most of the matches we played against each other, faster. She played more in, even though she’s risking with that speed.”

Swiatek finished the match with 27 winners and 46 unforced errors. Gauff hit 18 winners to 37 unforced errors and saved 10 of 14 break points.

“I’m sure I’m going to play her many more times,” Gauff said. “I’m not going to win every time, but I think this win shows me that I have the possibility to do it. I still think I’m not even close to the peak of my game. I think there’s still a lot of kinks and things that I can improve, too.”

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