Coco Gauff defeats Shuai Zhang to advance to the quarterfinals of the US Open

Serena Williams needed to pass the torch to someone, and the most likely contestant, 18-year-old Coco Gauff, is reaching for it.

Gauff, the 12th seed, finds himself in uncharted territory embracing the big stage that was all hers at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday. The 24,800 fans transferred their cheers from Serena to Gauff.

The crowd chanted “Let’s Go Coco” as Gauff finished the second set with four straight wins and two set points.

“It feels crazy,” Gauff said. “Fans sing my name. I tried not to smile as I made the transition. Inside, I was trying so hard not to smile. It’s a surreal moment for me, people are chanting my name at Arthur Ashe Stadium.”

After trailing 5-4 in the opener and 5-3 in the second, Gauff bounced back with big finishes. She has reached her first US Open quarterfinal with a 7-5, 7-5 win over China’s Shuai Zhang.

Gauff was her charming, vivacious self, circling and fist pumping after important game wins. After a long rally late in the second set, she appeared to wag her finger after a dikembe-mutombo-style block. Gauff said it was something else.

Coco Gauff
Coco Gauff has reached the quarterfinals of the US Open.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

“This was supposed to be a time like the City Girls time,” Gauff said with a laugh, referring to the hip-hop group. “City girl. It’s a City Girl Summer, period. I wasn’t thinking about Mutombo. I feel like a wall out there, she pushed me so hard. It’s like you can’t get past me.”

The Delray Beach, Fla. native admitted there’s something about playing in New York and she’s been to Ashe Stadium for all four games.

“It feeds on the crowd,” Gauff said. “I told my team after the game that for some reason I’m so much more lively. I found it like a cold. I think it balances both. I think New York brings out a side of me that I haven’t had since I was 15, so it’s nice.”

Gauff has been playing here since she was 15, but her best performance at the US Open came in the third round. She admits that the late comebacks might not have been an option a few years ago.

“I think it’s definitely grown up,” Gauff said. “I always realize how important every point is. Even if you sometimes lose a set when you come back from 4-1 and make life difficult for that person, mentally it does something to the other player.

Now she faces red-hot 18th seed Caroline Garcia, who’s had a big hard-court summer and conquered the last open tuning in Cincinnati.

“She probably plays the best tennis she’s ever played,” Gauff said.

Coco Gauff reacts as she wins the fourth round of the US Open.
Coco Gauff reacts as she wins the fourth round of the US Open.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

Gauff’s sheer power increased as the game progressed. Her speed was electric. In set number two, she sprinted in for a drop shot and caught it with her backhand, springing it across the court for a beautifully angled winner. Fans made the place sound like Serena did it.

However, Gauff got off to a shaky start. She was broken in her first service game after missing two straight shots – a backhand wide and a forehand in the net. Zhan was up 2-0, but Gauff broke back immediately when she pushed a forehand over the line at the break point.

At 5-4, Gauff served to stay in the set and she smashed two service winners to go 5-5, then broke Zhang to go up to 6-5. At the break point, Gauff overpowered Zhang with a powerful backhand and a nervous Zhang hit a long backhand.

Coco Gauff greets the crowd after her win.
Coco Gauff greets the crowd after her win.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

Coco ended the set on her serve to reel off three straight games and the fans were in a joyful uproar.

The second set looked precarious as Gauff broke at 5-3, but she rallied again to win four straight games.

Coco did it in style – as Serena has done so many times. Over the weekend after Serena retired, Gauff tweeted, “Serena THANK YOU. Because of you I believe in this dream. The effect you had on me is beyond words.”

And those effects could show up again on Tuesday.

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