When Coco Gauff envisioned the pathway to her first U.S. Open title, the 19-year-old from Delray Beach wasn’t expecting to go through an old, recently retired, former No. 1 legend.
The Round of 16 on Sunday at Ashe Stadium will feature the most glamourous women’s match of the fortnight.
It’s Coco vs. Caroline.
Gauff will have to deal with the 33-year-old, come-backing Caroline Wozniacki, who retired in 2019 and is amidst a rousing run in Flushing Meadows despite a 623th ranking.
Wozniacki, married to former University of Florida star David Lee, received an Open wildcard after rejoining the tour after a 3½-year absence. She won her first three matches, including impressive triumphs over Petra Kvitova and Jennifer Brady.
Last year, Wozniacki joined ESPN as a broadcaster but is showing signs that she hadn’t lost all that much despite motherhood. The 2017 Australian Open champion was always known for stamina and rock-solid, ever consistent baseline game, earning the nickname “The Great Dane.’’
“I never thought I would ever be in this position after she retired and came back,’’ Gauff said Friday night after rallying in three sets to beat Elise Mertens. “She’s still a really fit player, striking the ball pretty clean. It’s not going to be an easy matchup.”
Wozniacki has 14 years on Gauff but not the service firepower.
“She knows my game pretty well,” Gauff said. “I don’t know if she commentated on my matches. But I know she watched a lot tennis after she retired. it’s going to be really cool. It’s really exciting to play a legend like her. I’m not going to take it for granted.’’
The winner likely will face in the quarterfinals No. 1 Iga Swiatek, the defending Open champion. The Polish star had beaten Gauff seven straight times before the teenager finally notched her first win three weeks ago in Cincinnati.
Wozniacki stands in the way as Gauff goes into the fourth-round battle on a 13-1 spree, capturing two of the Open warmup tournaments (Washington, Cincinnati). Last year, Gauff’s run ended in the quarterfinals.
Wozniacki’s resume is dense – a two-time Open finalist, winner of 30 WTA tournaments who spent 71 weeks at No. 1.
“I don’t think she’s going to give me anything,’’ Gauff said. “She’s one of those players, was a great mover when she played. I’m expecting long rallies. Watching her playing the last couple of matches this week, she’s playing more aggressive than before.’’
Both players have been the toast of the tournament; Gauff has glowed in her all-yellow New Balance ensemble.
Jimmy Butler among celebrities at Gauff’s last match
On Friday night, Justin Bieber, his celebrity wife Hailey Bieber and Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler were in attendance for Gauff’s win.
“It’s crazy,’’ Gauff said. “I was star shocked. But then I remembered Barack and Michelle Obama watched my first match.’’
At the last major, Wimbledon, Gauff lost in the first round to continue an unsettling 2023.
But now Gauff has changed the narrative, playing the best tennis of her career. At Wimbledon, Gauff made another coaching change, hooking up with former Spanish tour player Pere Riba. Brad Gilbert, who once coached Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick, was added as a consultant in Washington.
“It’s amazing the potential that she has,’’ Riba told Tennis.com this week. “It’s like she’s in the top of the rankings but still has a big margin to improve many things. It’s one of the reasons why I was really, really motivated at the moment we start to talk.”
Wozniacki relishes these giant moments.
“I love playing in front of a big crowd,’’ Wozniacki said. “I love playing in the big stadiums. That’s why still It’s a great feeling. All I know right now is that I’m really enjoying this moment.’’
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Coco Gauff will have to go through Caroline Wozniacki at US Open