At U.S. Open, Teen Spirit Rules and It’s Contagious
As Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez have put themselves one match away from an improbable all-teenage U.S. Open women’s singles final, an even younger duo is just as close to taking the trophy in tandem.
Coco Gauff, 17, and Caty McNally, 19, beat the top-seeded doubles pairing of Elise Mertens and Hsieh Su-wei on Wednesday afternoon in the women’s doubles quarterfinals, 6-3, 7-6 (1).
In Gauff and McNally’s on-court interview in front of a joyful crowd at Louis Armstrong Stadium, McNally said she had drawn inspiration from her peers’ success in singles.
“It’s truly incredible,” McNally said. “I’ve walked past Leylah and Emma in the locker rooms and have just congratulated them, and rooted them on. I think it’s unbelievable. Age is just a number; it doesn’t mean anything. We’re showing that we’re fierce and we’re ready to be out here competing with everyone. I just think it’s awesome.”
In their news conference, Gauff said she believed there was “definitely a shift” happening toward a younger generation.
“For me, I always knew it was going to come,” Gauff said. “I’m glad. I’m so happy for Leylah and Emma. I’ve known both of them for a long time; they’re both super nice girls, and I’m always cheering for them.” Gauff said she had been due to leave the tournament site during Fernandez’s quarterfinal win Tuesday, but stayed to watch the conclusion. “I had to wait ’til that third set finished,” Gauff said. “It ended up being long, but it was worth the wait.”
“I am rooting for both of them,” Gauff added. “Hope we get a teenager final. It’s definitely inspiring. It inspires me to do better and work harder.”
Gauff, ranked 23rd in singles, has been a leader for her generation in recent years, resetting expectations of what teenagers can achieve in this era of professional tennis after reaching the second week of Wimbledon in 2019 when she was just 15 years old. McNally has yet to break the top 100 in singles, but said she drew encouragement from Raducanu and Fernandez’s successes.
“I think it should just give everyone the inspiration to just go out there and say, ‘Why not me?’” McNally said. “That’s what they’re doing, going out there every match, playing so fearless. ‘Why not me going to the semis, quarters, or winning it?’ They’re playing very boldly, fiercely. Obviously we’re not still in the singles, but I think we can do the same thing in doubles.”
Despite their youth, the team dubbed “McCoco” is one of the more established partnerships in women’s tennis. McNally and Gauff first played together three years ago here, winning the U.S. Open girls’ doubles title. They have played together frequently since, winning three WTA titles beginning in 2019, and twice reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
“The main thing that makes us hard to beat is our chemistry with each other,” Gauff said. “If one of us is off, the other one is always there to cover.” (When McNally missed this year’s French Open, Gauff played doubles with a decidedly older partner: then-40-year-old Venus Williams.)
Mertens and Hsieh, whose second serves were both relentlessly attacked by the teenagers across the net, were full of praise for the emerging generation.
“They have nothing to lose: they can play and be free,” said Mertens, a relative veteran at age 25 who is also ranked in the top 20 in singles. “Body-wise, they’re very mature, and also mentally. They have a lot of power already, for 17 and 18 years old.”
Hsieh, 35, was enthusiastic about the youth infusion in the singles and doubles draws at this year’s Open.
“It’s always nice to see the young girls coming,” Hsieh said. “They’re pretty, they have energy, and they have different games. It’s an exciting refresh for the tour.”
Hsieh, however, said she was happy to watch the youth takeover from a distance, for now. “I hope I don’t need to face them again too fast,” she said. As their on-court interview was wrapping up, Gauff grabbed the microphone to address the “Gen Z” people she saw in attendance.
“Armstrong is always a young crowd — I saw a lot of kids out there,” Gauff said in her news conference. “I wanted them to know it definitely can happen to them. I just think if you dream it, you can do it. All those kids out there just reminded me of me when I was here in the U.S. Open watching people play, thinking that I can make it. It’s always such a big dream.
“People always say, ‘Yeah, every kid thinks they’re going to be No. 1 and stuff,’” Gauff added. “I think every kid should believe that and should work for it; don’t let adults tell you that you can’t do it.”