Image courtesy of ATP Tour.
By Patrick D. Lewis
A surprise-filled two weeks of tennis in Flushing Meadows, NY was capped off last weekend with American Coco Gauff and Serbian Novak Djokovic as the 2023 U.S. Open champions.
This year’s Open will likely be most remembered for Djokovic’s victory over Russian Daniil Medvedev, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3, in the final on Sunday. The 36-year-old Djokovic tied Margaret Court’s record for most grand slam championships with his 24th win and became the oldest man to ever win the US Open. Djokovic donned his 24th win with a shirt following his win that read “Mamba Forever,” a reference to the late NBA star Kobe Bryant, whose Lakers jersey number was 24.
Following the match, Djokovic told the crowd, “I never imagined that I would be standing here talking with you about 24 slams. I have a shot for history, and why not grab it if it’s presented? It obviously means the world to me.”
The two men’s semifinal matches were also notable; Djokovic defeated American Ben Shelton en route to the championship and Medvedev defeated #1 seed Carlos Alcaraz in an epic four-set match. Following his US Open win, Djokovic now reclaims the #1 world ranking, something he previously held for a cumulative 389 weeks, which is a record in itself. Alcaraz falls to #2 and Medvedev remains #3.
On the nearly equally dramatic women’s side, Gauff bested Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka in three sets to win her first grand slam tournament and take home a three million dollar paycheck as the tournament celebrates 50 years of equal prize money for male and female players. She had a slow start, losing the first set 2-6 to the hard-hitting Sabalenka before winning the second and third sets 6-3, 6-2. The match lasted just over two hours. Gauff, speaking at the trophy ceremony following the match, said, “I don’t know how this is real.”
Hailing from Florida, Gauff was a sixth seed at the start of the tournament. She is the youngest American woman to win the tournament since all-time great Serena Williams won her first US Open at age 17 in 1999. Gauff ended former world #1 Caroline Wozniacki’s comeback attempt in the fourth round, won a commanding 6-0, 6-2 victory over Jelena Ostapenko in the quarterfinal, and defeated tenth seed Karolina Muchova 6-4, 7-5 in the semis en route to the final.
Image courtesy of PBS
Sabalenka, despite the loss in the final, accrued enough points to take the top ranking in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) world rankings. The former holder of the #1 spot, Poland’s Iga Swiatek, lost to Ostapenko in the fourth round and is now ranked #2. Gauff moved up from #6 to #3.
This year’s rendition of America’s largest tennis tournament included a large number of deep runs by American players. Gauff is the first American to win the US Open since Sloane Stephens in 2017. She is the 9th American woman to win the tournament in the Open Era (since 1968). Another American woman, 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys, made it to the semifinals but was defeated by Sabalenka. Jessica Pegula and Peyton Stearns, both Americans, went out in the fourth round.
The men’s side of the tournament featured even more Americans. Three American men made it to the quarterfinals: world #8 Taylor Fritz, Ben Shelton, and Hyattsville, MD, native Francis Tiafoe. It was the most American men in the quarters since 2005. Shelton defeated Tiafoe and went on to the semifinals, where he lost to Djokovic, and defeated American Tommy Paul in the fourth round. Despite the impressive showing by Americans, Andy Roddick’s 2003 win remains the most recent US Open title for an American man.
The 2023 US Open featured an impressive array of records set and meaningful moments on and off the court. It was a potent showcase of both the continuing talent of the world’s best and of rising young stars.