Fifteen-year-old Coco Gauff continued her extraordinary breakthrough year by defeating Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 to win her first WTA title at the Upper Austria Ladies Open in Linz.
Gauff’s victory topped off another remarkable week in her young career after she was initially bounced out of the tournament in the second round of qualifying by the No 130 player Tamara Korpatsch. It was not until moments before play on Tuesday that her fortunes changed as a withdrawal by Maria Sakkari offered her a place in the first round as a lucky loser.
“I’m still overwhelmed and shocked,” she said afterwards. “I guess it’s crazy to say it’s my first WTA title. This was definitely not on the calendar at the beginning of the year, because I didn’t think I’d have a chance to get in, and now I’m the champion. It’s just insane that I got in as a lucky loser and now I’m the champion. My dad told me when I got in, before the first main‑draw match, he said: ‘You can’t lose twice in the same tournament.’ I’m sure he never thought it would come this far, to being the champion, but I guess he was right.”
Gauff had grabbed the opportunity in Austria with both hands, piecing together a brilliant run underlined by her startling 7-6(1), 6-4 win against the top seed and world No 8 Kiki Bertens in the quarter-final. For all the hype around her, Gauff had never previously defeated a top-40 player.
In the final, Gauff neutralised the searing power of the 2017 French Open champion Ostapenko with her speed and variety, drawing errors from the erratic Latvian throughout.
By the third set, Gauff’s average forehand speed registered only 55mph compared with Ostapenko’s 75mph, a reflection of the intelligent slices from the American that tripped up her opponent throughout.
Gauff’s rise has been underlined by a maturity that belies her age, but as she closed in on her first WTA title, she finally resembled the 15-year-old girl she is. At 5-0 in the third set, Gauff failed to convert two championship points and then she panicked.
She immediately lost her serve for 5-2 before calling her father and coach, Corey Gauff, on to the court. As she asked him what to do, he calmed his daughter down with a pep talk, and parted with some pointed words: “You’re not going to sprint to the finish line. We’re going to walk there.”
After finishing the 2018 season ranked 875th, Gauff will now rise to the top 75. She is the youngest American victor on the WTA tour since 1991. She may have walked slowly to the finish line here, but her young career so far has been a blinding sprint to the top.