Coco Gauff crowned Orange Bowl singles champ
PLANTATION, Fla. – If this was the final junior tennis match Coco Gauff ever plays, then she followed her father’s advice with a flourish.
The 14-year-old from Delray Beach, Fla., won the Orange Bowl girls’ 18s singles title on Sunday, defeating China’s Qinwen Zheng, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, to become the youngest Orange Bowl Girls’ 18s singles champion in 15 years (Nicole Vaidisova was a month younger when she won it in 2003).
The victory caps a year in which Gauff won the French Open girls’ singles title, achieved the junior world No. 1 ranking and went 31-5 in junior singles matches. The last of those victories came via dramatic comeback on Sunday, and after a two-hour rain delay, no less. Gauff – down a break in the third set – broke back to level the decider at 4-all, fought off three break points to hold on the next game and then broke Zheng again for an emphatic victory.
To hear it from Gauff, that kind of ending was no coincidence, and it may have been at least partially borne out of a candid conversation with her father, Corey, earlier in the week.
“My dad told me at the beginning of the tournament, ‘This is probably your last junior tournament, so play how you want to be remembered,’” Gauff said. “And that’s how I was thinking. People mostly know me to always fight, and even when I was down, I was like, ‘That’s how I want to be remembered,’ at least in junior tennis, and see what the next chapter has for me.”
Gauff plans to start her 2019 season by playing 'ITF World Tennis Tour 25’ professional events, and perhaps with a few more fans now than when she first arrived at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center this week.
“The crowd has been here all week for me,” Gauff said. “Clearly they were rooting for me. There were faces that have been here since Monday – not people I knew – but now I know. A lot of people showed up. I was surprised. I wasn’t expecting that, and I was expecting when it rained that no one was going to come, and people actually came back. I think that helped.”
“I remembered saying this in my head: ‘All these people are here, and they are still rooting for you, and you’re down 4-2. Then you should start rooting for yourself, too,’ and I think that helped turn the match around.”
In the boys’ 18s singles final, Finland’s Otto Virtanen overcame American Zane Kahn, 7-5, 6-4.
“This is the biggest singles win for me in my life, so it feels really good,” Virtanen said. “My game wasn’t the best today, but I still played the big points really good, really smart. I even had to change a little bit of tactics, because everything didn’t work… Usually I play pretty big and go aggressive from the beginning. I kept losing my serves too many times, and then I started to hit a couple more shots on the rally, and then tried to make the points a little bit longer.”
Hungary’s Adrienn Nagy and Korea’s Sohyun Park kept it from being an all-American sweep of the girls’ titles, as they won the 18s doubles championship over Natasha Subhash (Fairfax, Va.) and Kacie Harvey (Braintree, Mass.), 2-6, 7-5, [10-8].
“I’m really proud of what we did,” Harvey said. “We weren’t seeded, and we fought through the week. We made the final last week [at Eddie Herr] and we had a tough loss. To come back and get to the final again here, we beat some pretty good teams, so I’m really proud of what we did.”
“It was our first two times playing with each other,” Subhash added, “so it was a great first time. It was fun and we did really well.”
Rounding out the day's action, Sergey Fomin (Uzbekistan) and Gauthier Onclin (Belgium) won the boys’ 18s doubles title over Justin Schlageter (Germany) and Gustaf Stromg (Sweden), 6-7, 6-1, [10-8].
Photo Credit: Andrew Ong/USTA