With a racket in her hand, Gauff is not typical at all, as her success so far shows. And after the disappointment of a first-round exit at Wimbledon last month, the 19-year-old from Florida appears back to her best as the start of the U.S. Open approaches later this month.
Surging at the end of each set, Gauff defeated Maria Sakkari 6-2, 6-3 in the Washington final for the fourth WTA Tour singles title of her career. Gauff is the youngest women's champion of the hard-court tournament in the nation's capital and the first player since Caroline Wozniacki in 2009 to win four WTA tournaments as a teenager.
“I would say,” said Gauff, who is ranked No. 7 and was seeded No. 3, “I’m heading in the right direction.”
Well, there's an understatement.
“She’s already near the top, but there is a lot of room to get better," said Gauff's new coach, Pere Riba, who was joined on her team by consultant Brad Gilbert in Washington. “I’m happy, of course, that she won the tournament. I’m more happy about the way she did it. Her energy and attitude are more important for the long term.”
What a week it was, though.
Gauff, the runner-up at the 2022 French Open, didn't drop at set and ceded just 19 total games across four matches.
At night, Dan Evans became, at age 33, the oldest men's champion in Washington since Jimmy Connors was 35 in 1988 by beating Tallon Griekspoor 7-5, 6-3 in a final delayed by more than two hours in the second set because of a thunderstorm.
It was the second ATP Tour title for Evans, who was just 8-18 in 2023 before the DC Open and now will rise from No. 30 to a career-high No. 21 in the rankings Monday.
“I had to keep telling myself it was match-by-match and not so long ago I wasn’t playing great,” he said. “It was a good effort mentally to just stay in the present and keep fighting for each point. And I did a great job of that this week.”
This was the first year the tournament was a combined ATP-WTA 500 event. Despite equal billing, the prize money wasn’t the same — and won’t be until 2027. Gauff earned $120,150; Evans received $353,445.
In addition to the No. 9-ranked Sakkari, Gauff eliminated defending champion Liudmila Samsonova and Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Belinda Bencic.
“The caliber of players I have beat this week was probably the strongest out of all of the tournaments I’ve played,” said Gauff, who hit seven aces Sunday while improving to 4-1 in singles finals.
This was her second title of 2023, alongside one in Auckland, New Zealand, in January.
One big key this time was an improved forehand, long considered a weak point. Pere focused on altering her footwork so she would be in a better position to strike that shot and use it to attack.
“We all know that her forehand was always her weaker shot. I feel like now she’s improving that. She’s making more balls. She’s working on that,” said Sakkari, a 28-year-old from Greece who reached two Grand Slam semifinals in 2021. “Mentally she looks a lot more mature. She knows what she’s doing on the court.”
Sakkari, who beat top-seeded Jessica Pegula on Saturday, fell to 1-7 in finals.
“I’m not going to lie," Sakkari said, wiping away tears. "It's pretty disappointing.”
Sakkari broke to open the second set when Gauff dumped a drop shot into the net. Gauff put her hands on her head, walked to the sideline and hit her equipment bag with her racket. Soon, it was 2-0.
But Sakkari double-faulted to get broken to 3-all, and her groundstroke errors kept coming, too, often followed by a glance at her coach, Tom Hill.
Gauff noticed. She figured it was because she kept Sakkari from preying on her forehand.
“Consistently this week, I have ‘beaten’ that scouting report, and I think that’s why the players tend to get a little more frustrated,” Gauff said. “Almost all week, every player that I played has been looking at their box, because I truly think that the plan that they had I was able to kind of combat. Today, she clearly had a plan, and I kind of just made that plan fizzle out a little bit.”
A moment later, her phone buzzed. It was “Bro.”
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