The US Open is the last and frequently most surprising of the Grand Slam tournaments. Coming at the end of the long tennis season, it usually attracts all the great players from around the globe, anxious to make one last splash.
But this year’s event proved a coming out party for Americans, most of whom were Black. For the first time since professional tennis became open with both amateurs and professionals competing against each other (1968), four African Americans reached the quarterfinals. Three reached the semifinals and one prevailed as a new champion.
For 19-year-old Coco Gauff, winning the Women’s Final cemented what was a great second half of the year. Gauff only lost one match after Wimbledon, and in Saturday’s 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka, Gauff got up off the mat after losing the first set. She was dominant over the woman who will still advance to be number one in the world off her performance through the Open.
It also means Gauff is the first American teen to win the Open since her idol Serena Williams in 1999, and first American winner since Sloane Stephens in 2017.
It was her 12th straight victory and 18th in the last 19 matches. She will also no doubt advance from her number six position in the world tennis rankings next week.
Gauff was without question the biggest story of the tournament, but far from the only one. A close second was 20-year-old Ben Shelton, who made it all the way to the semifinals before losing to Novak Djokovic, the man many consider the greatest male player ever.
Until this event Shelton had been overshadowed by his quarterfinal opponent, Francis Tiafoe.
But Shelton defeated Tiafoe 6-2, 3-6, 7-6, 6-2. It was his first time advancing to the semis of a Grand Slam, and much will be expected of him in the future.
On the other hand, heightened expectations may have posed some problems for Tiafoe. Since becoming earlier this year only the third Black male to break into the Top 10, Tiafoe has lost far more matches than he has won. He was the darling of the Open crowd last year when he reached the semis before losing to eventual champion Chris Alcaraz.
But things haven’t gone as well for him this year, especially during the last portion of the season.
Disappointment also was the case for Madison Keys, who broke down in an emotional press conference following a tough loss to Sabalenka.
Keys had roared through the first set 6-0, and seemed completely in control.
But then she faded and lost in tiebreakers over the last two sets 6-7, 6-7.
At 28, Keys has always seemed on the cusp of stardom and has enjoyed a solid career, just not one filled with titles.
Still, coming in as a 17th seed and making the semis was an impressive feat.
With all four of these players set to head into 2024 primed for success, American tennis looks in better shape than it’s been in quite a while.