“100%,” she said, without a hint of hesitation. “That was the dream since I started this sport.”
She’s also eager.
“I know that this feeling is incredible and I want to experience it again,” the 19-year-old from Florida said in an interview with The Associated Press at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday night, a few hours after she defeated Aryna Sabalenka 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the U.S. Open final. “So I guess what’s next is trying to keep going even further.”
“To keep winning more of these,” she said with a laugh. “That would be the biggest goal. I’m not going to put a number (on) how many I want to win. But as many as I can.”
Anyone who would doubt Gauff clearly has not been paying attention. To the way she plays, to the way she can think her way through a match, to the way she handles herself the rest of the time.
It’s not easy to be in the spotlight from 15, her age when the transformation began from someone people in tennis knew about to someone the world knew about, thanks to a win over Venus Williams and a run to the fourth round at Wimbledon in her 2019 Grand Slam debut.
Maybe that fame, and accompanying expectations, will help navigate what’s to come.
She thinks so.
“I’m still me. … I don’t think I’ll ever (see) myself as a celebrity. I’m just a person who plays tennis, and millions of people like to watch me play tennis,” Gauff said. “But I think I’m going to be the same person after this. Yes, my life has changed. But I don’t think it’s going to affect how I approach my day-to-day life.”
Plenty of athletes say that. With Gauff, it’s easy to believe.
The first American teenager to triumph at Flushing Meadows since Serena Williams in 1999 is hardly the first tennis player to succeed before turning 20. Two who left New York as champs recently — Bianca Andreescu was 19 in 2019; Emma Raducanu was 18 in 2021 — have not recreated that sort of magic, thanks in part to injuries.
Gauff is a special talent, to be sure, and her health has never been an issue. What really should serve her well is the beyond-her-years maturity displayed in moments with a racket in her hand and, importantly, in those without one.
She is, in many ways, her sport’s first standout who is Gen Z, through and through. On Saturday, she derived motivation from negative comments on social media she read in the locker room before facing Sabalenka, then filmed a TikTok post (soundtrack: DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win”) on court with the trophy afterward.
Gauff also is always willing to speak from the heart.
After protesters interrupted her semifinal for 50 minutes to bring attention to climate change, Gauff said she agreed with the cause and would never tell someone not to stand up for what they believe in. After reaching her first major at last year’s French Open, Gauff called out the gun violence in the United States. When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Gauff discussed it at Wimbledon. When she was handed a $3 million check Saturday, Gauff thanked Billie Jean King for her role in getting equal prize money for the U.S. Open women’s champion 50 years ago.
Gauff often credits her parents, Corey and Candi, with whom she shared tear-filled embraces in the stands after the final, and her grandparents with helping mold the person she is. That is part of why she is the player she is, and why coach Pere Riba talks about what a good listener and learner Gauff is.
“When you say something to her, she analyzes it and she puts in the work,” Riba said. “She is willing to make changes.”
When the new rankings come out Monday, based on results over the past year, Sabalenka will be No. 1. Gauff will be No. 3 in singles and No. 1 in doubles.
Not that she cares all that much about those numbers.
As for one day being No. 1 in singles, Gauff said, “I know that’s what people want next. But it’s honestly not a huge aspiration of mine. I just want to win as many Slams as I can win.”
So she aims “to keep getting better and better,” because the performance against Sabalenka, Gauff declared, “is nowhere near the best that I can play. It was a match that I won just off my athleticism. But I think there’s a lot of improvements with ball-striking and handling the pace and serving.”
Maybe so. There will be time to devote to that.
First, though, Gauff has other things on her to-do list.
“I’m just looking forward to just going on the beach,” Gauff said with a chuckle, “and sleeping in my own bed and not in a hotel room.”
Howard Fendrich has been the AP’s tennis writer since 2002.