In one of the most memorable days in recent tennis history, the Western & Southern Open crowned two new singles champions on Sunday -- and provided even more hype for next week's US Open.
During the day's first final, Coco Gauff continued her blistering-hot summer on the hard court with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Karolina Muchova to claim the first 1000-level title of her career and notch her second WTA title in three weeks. Just a day after earning her first victory in eight tries over world No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the semifinals, the 19-year-old Gauff became the youngest woman to win the tournament in Open era history and made herself one of the top contenders -- if not the contender -- for the final major trophy of the year in New York.
It's been a remarkable turnaround for Gauff, who was upset in the first round of Wimbledon just last month. But since then, she started working with Pere Riba and Brad Gilbert, and has gone 11-1 during the North American swing. In an interview with ESPN from Cincinnati last week, Gilbert said he had suggested some small adjustments during their brief time together so far, but made it clear Gauff alone deserves the credit for her recent success.
"Coco is a really hard worker," Gilbert said. "She's really humble and she's a great kid, and you really want great things to happen for her. She's also really bright and she wants to be good ... She's had the tough burden the past few years of seeing other people winning Slams and thinking, 'OK, why not me?' but she's willing to do the work to get there."
With Gauff's doubles partner Jessica Pegula winning the Canadian Open earlier this month, Gauff's victory marked the first sweep of both of the summer 1000-level hard-court tournaments by American women since Cincinnati was reintroduced on the WTA schedule in 2004.
consider it swept 🇺🇸👏🏼 https://t.co/dtjykGOrCl— Jessie Pegula (@JPegula) August 20, 2023
After winning the first set and jumping to a 4-2 lead in the second set, it looked as if the trophy was Alcaraz's, but Djokovic had other plans. Looking to avenge his loss to Alcaraz at Wimbledon last month, Djokovic staved off match point in a second-set tiebreak and ultimately won the back-and-forth nail-biter, 5-7, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4).
At three hours and 49 minutes, it was the longest best-of-three set final in ATP tour history, and cemented Djokovic-Alcaraz as tennis' current best rivalry. It was Djokovic's 95th career singles title, and at 36 he became the oldest male champion in tournament history.
"It's [a] crazy match that we've been through today," Djokovic said later in his news conference. "Roller coaster of a match, to be honest. I don't think I've played too many matches like this in my life. Maybe I can compare it to [Rafael] Nadal finals in Australian Open 2012 that went the distance. Obviously three sets today, but almost four hours ...
"[Today was] just one of the most exciting and toughest mentally, emotionally, physically matches that I've ever had in my career."
The two enter New York as the top seeds, so if they were to face one another at the US Open, it would be in the final. Djokovic is looking for his 24th major title -- which would tie Margaret Court's all-time record for the most ever -- and the 20-year-old Alcaraz will be seeking to defend his US Open title and earn his third major trophy.
Djokovic acknowledged that possibility -- unprompted -- on court after the match.
"You never give up, do you?" Djokovic said to Alcaraz. "I love that about you. I hope we meet in New York. That would be fun -- well, for the fans, not for me."
That would be fun, indeed.
And it might be hard to believe, but Djokovic's and Gauff's monumental victories weren't the only things around the tennis world worth knowing about last week. Here's what else you might have missed:
The luckiest loser
After losing in three sets in the second round of qualifying at the Western & Southern Open, it looked as if Alexei Popyrin would need to find some other ways to prepare for the US Open. But he remained in Cincinnati and at the facility, and while many of his peers were playing in the main draw or getting ready to do so, he was sitting in the player lounge when his fate changed.
"I was on the couch, literally switched on the PS5 to play FIFA with my physio, because we have a lot of FIFA battles," Popyrin told the ATP. "I got the call from the ATP Tour managers telling me that I have to be on court in five minutes."
Popyrin had been second on the list of lucky losers, and Daniel Altmaier had already been called in to replace Andy Murray after he withdrew. Popyrin was given the very last-minute notice to replace Karen Khachanov just before the match was slated to get underway. In a rare battle of lucky losers, Popyrin earned the three-set victory over Altmaier. But his luck didn't stop there.
Nicolas Jarry, his second-round opponent, withdrew in order to be with his wife for the birth of their child. Then in the third round, Popyrin defeated Emil Ruusuvuori, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3, to advance to his first Masters 1000-level quarterfinal. He ultimately lost on Friday to Hubert Hurkacz 6-1, 7-6 (8), but not without jumping up 18 spots to a new career-high ranking of No. 40 and a $166,020 paycheck -- $152,505 more than he would have made after losing in qualifying.
Swiatek speaks out
Before losing in the semis to Gauff, world No. 1 Swiatek was candid with the media about how hard some of the criticism and comments she has received online in recent months have been on her. After her three-set win over Qinwen Zheng in the round of 16, Swiatek addressed reporters with a plea before taking questions.
"For sure today's match wasn't perfect," Swiatek said. "We all saw that. But the amount of hate and criticism that me and my team get after even losing a set is just ridiculous. I want to kind of encourage people to be more thoughtful when they comment on [the] internet."
Swiatek said in addition to public comments on social media, she and members of her team receive countless emails and direct messages, many of which are negative and "sometimes even a little bit mean."
The following day, after her quarterfinal against Marketa Vondrousova, Swiatek told reporters her episode of "Break Point," the Netflix docuseries, only added to the hate she had received and she indicated she would not be a part of the show's second season.
"There were some things that I thought they edited it, and people kind of misunderstood sometimes [a] few situations in the episode," Swiatek said. "Well, we already kind of spoke to Netflix about these things. I wish it could be done a little bit differently. When we watched before the premiere, we couldn't have any influence on how they edited some stuff.
"Yeah, there was a lot of hate after the episode came out. That's another thing that kind of convinced me that I don't need that right now at this stage of my career."
The bee mystery
Or so he thought.
Turns out it wasn't a pesky bee but a fan imitating one from the stands. When Tsitsipas figured out the noise was coming from a person and not an insect, he told chair umpire Nacho Forcadell about the bizarre distraction. But he then quickly took matters into his own hands and approached the fans in the area where the noise was coming from. He asked who was doing the buzzing sound and another fan identified the culprit.
"I want her out. She needs to go," Tsitsipas said to Forcadell.
Forcadell ultimately decided to just give the fan a warning, letting her know she would have to leave if she did it again, and she apologized to Tsitsipas. The world No. 7 went on to win the match 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2), and we all got this incredibly strange moment to remember forever:
Several of the top American players posed for a Vanity Fair spread that was released last week. In the pictorial, the likes of Pegula, Madison Keys, Frances Tiafoe, Shelton, Danielle Collins, Sebastian Korda and others channeled their inner supermodels.
The current field of American pro tennis players is the most exciting, talented, and varied we've seen in decades-men and women alike.— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) August 15, 2023
On the eve of the US Open, VF takes a closer look at the emerging talents of American tennis.
🔗: https://t.co/bsaW9EHO2K pic.twitter.com/g45yfKShhA