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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Tuesday, January 23, 2024


Coco Gauff saved set points fending off Marta Kostyuk 7-6(6), 6-7(3), 6-2 to score her 12th straight major win and reach her maiden AO semifinal.

Photo credit: Darrian Traynor/Getty

Turbulence tossed Coco Gauff on Rod Laver Arena.

Pushed to a final set as feisty Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk ravaged her unruly forehand, Gauff left the court to regroup.

Svitolina: Pain and Pride

The fourth seed returned imposing fight and flight.

Soaring through the final set, Gauff fended off Kostyuk 7-6(6), 6-7(3), 6-2 to land her first career Australian Open semifinal.

It is Gauff’s 12 consecutive Grand Slam victory and second straight Slam semifinal and it didn’t come easy.

An arrhythmic adventure spanned three hours, eight minutes on the hottest day of the tournament.

We saw Gauff rally from 1-5 down, save two set points squeezing out a first set in which she was outplayed, fail to serve out the second set at 5-3 and watch her forehand collapse in the second-set tiebreaker forcing the fourth seed into her first AO third set in four years.

Through all the chaos, Gauff showed problem-solving skills and managed the stress better than the major quarterfinal debutant.

Gauff won all 12 of her first serve points in the last set, raising her 2024 record to 10-0 and celebrated with hip-shaking happy dance.

“Happy, really proud of the fight I showed today,” said Gauff after her second three-set win over Kostyuk. “Marta is a tough opponent. Every time we play it’s a tough match. I really fought and left it all out on the court today.”

At this stage, it’s not about aesthetics, it’s about advancing.

US Open champion Gauff moves forward and will face a fellow Grand Slam champion—defending AO champion Aryna Sabalenka
in a US Open final rematch with a spot in Saturday's AO final on the line.

The second-seeded Sabalenka stormed past 2021 Roland Garros singles and doubles champion Barbora Krejcikova 6-2, 6-3 to score her 12th consecutive Melbourne victory. Gauff is 4-2 vs. Sabalenka, including that three-set US Open final triumph.

The 21-year-old Kostyuk put herself in position to go up a set, more than doubled Gauff’s winner output—39 to 17—but was often her own worst enemy at crunch time.

Consider Kostyuk’s all-court skills—she’s not afraid to close net and spike some fine volleys—her ability to rush her opponent crowding the service box and taking the return early and the fact she can run with Gauff and sometimes outhit her in running forehand exchanges and you understand why she posed problems for the woman playing her final major as a teenager.

The 19-year-old Gauff showed clear signs of vulnerability.

Sharpening her serve and lowering her toss working with ace master Andy Roddick in the offseason, Gauff was rolling on serve, stamping 18 straight service holds until today.

Perhaps spooked by Kostyuk’s aggressive return posture, Gauff served 54 percent with one ace and nine double faults, won just 59 percent of first-serve points, 39 percent of second-serve points and surrendered serve seven times.

Playing with adhesive tape wrapping her left thigh, Kostyuk was in charge at 5-1, but crumbled emotionally at some critical stages.

“I was just trying to get one more game in the first set and at least make it competitive. One game turned into another and then I was able to win that set,” Gauff said. “In the second set, I put myself in opportunity I think I got a little passive.

“When I came out in the third I was just trying to play aggressive and hit through the court because I knew if I left something standing, she was going to take advantage.”

In a jittery six-minute opening game, Kostyuk couldn’t consistently land first serves, but dodged a couple of break points to hold.

Tennis Express
Gauff answered with her 19th consecutive hold of the tournament.

The fourth-seeded American, who had not faced a break point in her prior two matches, double-faulted twice to face break point at 30-40. Kostyuk cracked a return, rattling out the error to break for a 3-1 lead.

Facing a triple-break point hole at love-40, Kostyuk made a stand. The Ukrainian clubbed a cluster of forehand winners, provoked some forehand errors from Gauff and held with a clenched fist for 4-1 after 26 minutes.

Decelerating on a second serve, Gauff dropped her head and double faulted into net to face a break point.

An anxious Gauff sailed a backhand well long as Kostyuk broke again with a loud “Come On!” for 5-1.

Squinting into the sun, Kostyuk slapped a pair of double faults handing back the break in the seventh game.

Staring down set point, Gauff attacked and drew a netted backhand to save it. Moving forward again, Gauff coaxed another netted pass holding for 3-5.

Asserting her aggression, Gauff earned break points for the fourth Kostyuk service game. Unleashing some of her heaviest strikes of the match, Gauff wrong-footed the Ukrainian with a forehand down the line breaking again for 4-5.

The woman in pink was two points from the set at 30-all, but Kostyuk brain-cramped and tried a one-handed slice pass, rather than banging her two-hander. The pass expired in the net then Kostyuk whiffed on a Gauff ace as the American reeled off her fourth game in a row to level after 10 games.

Transforming that forehand so fragile at the start into a weapon, Gauff whipped a forehand down the line for break point. By then Kostyuk was casting nervous glances over at her box then she double-faulted away the break and a 6-5 lead to the US Open champion.

Flying high on that five-game spree, Gauff created her own turbulence. The Auckland champion double-faulted the break right back sending it into a tiebreaker after one hour.

Before the tiebreaker began, Kostyuk requested a medical timeout for treatment of a blister on her left foot.

A tense tiebreaker featured shaky misses from both sides.

The 2017 AO girls champion, Kostyuk rallied from 2-4 down and 4-5 down in the tiebreaker. Winning a 15-shot forehand exchange and hitting a jarring forehand down the line gave Kostyuk her second set point at 6-5.

Thirty-four minutes after her first set point at 5-2, Kostyuk got the shot she wanted but slapped a forehand into net to squander set point.

A rattled Kostyuk floated a forehand long handing Gauff set point at 7-6.

Closing net, Gauff blocked a backhand volley to end the set and an irate Kostyuk splattered her Wilson racquet off the blue court in frustration.

It was skittish, it was sloppy at times, but Gauff, applying coach Gilbert’s motto Winning Ugly survived it all to go up a set.

Ultimately, this was Grand Slam larceny of the highest order.

However, Gauff had a co-conspirator helping her steal the set. Kostyuk completely lost clarity after earning her second set point at 7-6.

In a sloppy start to the second set, Gauff pasted a backhand into net gift-wrapping the opening break. Gauff broke right back to level.

Finding her groove, Gauff won eight of nine points edging ahead 2-1.

If I were coaching Kostyuk, I’d urge her to keep an ice bucket next to her court-side seat. And advise her everytime she feels the red rage coming stick your head in the bucket and chill.

Kostyuk’s problem is she’s her own toughest critic. A bigger issue is she lets frustration fester and infect subsequent points—and shows her opponent mental fragility.

Slapping her palm off her left thigh in frustration, Kostyuk committed more self-sabotage double-faulting then floating a slice backhand approach giving Gauff the break and a 4-2 second-set lead.

Shrugging it off, Kostyuk cracked a clean crosscourt backhand winner breaking at love—her fifth break of the day—in the seventh game.

Serving at 3-4, the pair produced one of the wildest, rambling, scrambling all-court adventures of the fortnight. Gauff had Kostyuk completely off the court at times, but jerked a forehand swing volley wide. That 21-shot gritty exchange gave Kostyuk the ad, but she could not convert.

Despite winning that delirious desperation point and earning two game points, Kostyuk put a forehand into net as Gauff score her sixth break for 5-3.

Kostyuk wasn’t done as she bolted a backhand to break back.

The loopy forehand is Gauff’s most sporadic shot, but it was there when she needed it most. Gauff spun a forehand down the line that caught the very back edge of the baseline to help her hold for 6-5.

Ukrainian fans waved their nations flags as Kostyuk forced the second-set tiebreaker.

A terrific rally spanned more than 30 shots saw Kostyuk repeatedly hammer the Gauff forehand with ballistic drives finally drawing the error.

Playing off the front foot, Kostyuk charged to a 4-0 lead.

Gauff, who served for the set at 5-3, looked tentative as her shots were landing shot.

On her second set point, Kostyuk drew a forehand error to force a final set after two hours, 24 minutes.

On the hottest day of the tournament—temperatures were at 86 degrees before the start of the decider—Gauff was pushed to a third set in Melbourne Park for the first time since she lost to compatriot Sofia Kenin in the 2020 fourth round.

It was Gauff’s first three-setter in a Slam since she rallied past Aryna Sabalenka 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the US Open final last September.

Returning to the court after a bathroom break, Gauff hit a beautiful running backhand pass to spark the opening-game break.

Lofting a creative lob, Gauff went up triple break point as Kostyuk slammed her Blade racquet to the court seeing it all slip away. Jamming a return into the body, Gauff broke at 15 for 3-0.

Gauff extended her lead to 5-0 and served it out at love on her second attempt.

On a day in which her best tennis eluded her, Gauff brought the stubborn fighting spirit and resilience, closing a sweaty, sloppy three hour, eight-minute triumph with a hip-shaking smile for supportive Aussie fans.

“Fight!!!” Gauff scrawled on the court-side camera after battling into the AO final four—living to fight another day.


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