NEW YORK — With a straight-sets win over Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic Thursday night, Coco Gauff became the youngest American player to reach the US Open final since 17-year-old Serena Williams in 1999. But that does little justice to describe the wacky night Gauff endured for a shot at winning her first major title on Saturday.
There was a shoeless protester. A 49-minute delay. A 40-shot rally.
“It was a lot of emotional challenges,” Gauff said. “But I think I did a good job of staying focused. I’m just really proud of myself today.”
Here are four takeaways from a bizarre night in New York.
Gauff can handle distractions
Before the match and throughout this tournament, Gauff has spoken about wanting to keep her focus on her side of the court. To not allow herself to be drawn into whatever her opponent is doing, good or bad, or what’s happening in the crowd, on Twitter or in her player’s box. That game plan was tested over and again Thursday night.
The headlining moment happened an hour into the match, when a protester in an “End Fossil Fuels” T-shirt glued his bare feet to the concrete floor of Arthur Ashe Stadium and stopped play for nearly 50 minutes as NYPD officers and medical personnel figured out how to remove the man from his seat.
“I just treated it like a rain delay,” Gauff said after the match. “We had to leave the court and didn’t know how long it would be, five minutes or an hour. It was tough to figure out if we stay warm or conserve energy. After, like, 10 minutes of waiting, I decided to change my clothes and eat a bar.”
When play resumed, Gauff was up a set and a game. Muchova held serve and Gauff took the next game at love. Both women seemed to elevate their play until Gauff earned her first opportunity to close out the match. But Muchova saved match point, broke Gauff back and extended play for nearly another half hour.
“I told myself, trust yourself in the moment and you can’t take back mistakes,” Gauff said. “I was trying to focus on my side and accept the good balls she hit.”
If any moment demonstrated Gauff’s ability to do that, despite a raucous crowd and mounting pressure, it was at deuce in the final game of the second set. Muchova had saved five match points and…