NEW YORK – Caroline Wozniacki has been at the top before. Her desire to get back there is driving her return after a three-year retirement that included having two children.
Coco Gauff is trying to get where Wozniacki was. Many feel she’s on the precipice, and in fact, she could be making her major debut this week in New York.
That backdrop has set up the most anticipated US Open matchup yet – Sunday’s fourth-round match between Gauff, 19, and Wozniacki, 33, the former world No. 1 who is a two-time finalist here (2009 and 2014) and has been stunned in the first three rounds.
To be clear, Gauff, the No. 6 seed, was the heavy favorite with a 78 percent chance of winning, according to IBM Match Insights. But Wozniacki gave it her all, and it took the youngster three games to win 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to reach the quarterfinals.
The match took a dramatic turn early in the third set. Wozniacki, who used an error-prone gauff to win the second set, opened the third. Instead of applying more pressure, though, she let Gauff take control. Gauff has won six straight matches for the 15th time in 16 matches since losing in the first round at Wimbledon.
“To be honest, I missed that second set of a lot of mistakes,” Gauff said. “I was just trying to tell myself to be ready to play more balls because she’s a player and when you think she’s going to win the point, it’s not over. I was telling myself to be ready for another ball to come back.”
In the quarterfinals, Gauff will meet 20th seed Jelena Ostapenko, who upset world No. 1 Iga Svitek in three sets on Sunday. Ostapenko beat Gauff in the fourth round at the Australian Open earlier this year, their only meeting since 2019.
“Jelena, she’s a baller,” Gauff said. “She’s hot or cold, to be honest. … I might get some more free points from her, maybe not. Maybe she’ll hit a lot of winners.
Gauff will need to find an extra gear if she is to advance to the semifinals. On Sunday, Wozniacki was tagged with just 27 of 44 unforced errors, and despite having more winners — 33-14 — Gauff had to fight off break points to hold serve. She saved seven of 10 break points.
“There are things I think I can do better about the service,” Gauff said. “I did well in the return games. I think I could have handled my service games better. … In that second set, I had a lot of short balls and errors. I think I should go for bigger targets.
As for Wozniacki, regardless of the loss, she was playing in her first major tournament since the 2020 Australian Open and her third tournament since picking up a racket again. She defeated 11th seed Petra Kvitova in the second round and American Jennifer Brady in the third round to advance to the fourth round.
“Obviously I’m disappointed as I want to go further into the tournament, but overall I think I put in a good performance this week,” Wozniacki said. “I’ve played consistently well. I think there are a lot of things I’ll take with me from playing the Slams. I’ve beaten some great players along the way.
“Coco played better than me today. You can see why she’s been playing consistently well the last two months. I think she really stepped up when needed.
Wozniacki played two tournaments before the US Open this year, both in August. She lost in the second round in Montreal and dropped her first round match in Cincinnati. Her first match here was her fourth after losing to Ounes Jaber in the third round in Melbourne 3 1/2 years ago.
“I wanted to come back and see what I played in these three events this year, tennis-wise, physically and everything else. I learned a lot from this,” she said. “Every event I’ve played in, I’ve played a little bit better. Here, every match, every time, I’ve played a little bit better. I can bring a lot of positives with me.”
Wozniacki, a post-retirement commentator for the Tennis Channel and ESPN, has hinted that Gauff will play as complete a game as she did in her younger career.
“I think Coco, in the last month and a half, since Wimbledon, she’s not afraid to hit the hand she used to have,” Wozniacki said. “I think she’s getting more depth on it and moving around a little bit. I think that’s why she’s winning more consistently. … I feel right now, it’s all coming together for her.”
“Definitely this tournament I think I’m winning the matches because I’m a striker,” Gauff said. “That showed me that I can play aggressively today, and I know that’s probably when I’ll play my best tennis.”
Coco Gauff won the US Open in a thriller with her teammates by her side.
(Top photo: Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)