In her first tournament with Brad Gilbert in her corner, Coco Gauff has reached her first final on American soil.
Gauff, the No. 7 player in the world, advanced to Sunday’s championship match at the Mubadala Citi DC Open with a comprehensive 6-3, 6-3 win over defending champion Liudmila Samsonova in the semifinals. No. 3 seed Gauff will meet No. 4 Maria Sakkari of Greece, who edged Gauff’s doubles partner, Jessica Pegula, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 in the first semifinal.
Gauff is 28-14 this season, while Sakkari is 30-12.
“She had an incredible match today, obviously I know Jess very well so I know she’s not an easy player to beat, especially in these conditions,” Gauff told Renee Stubbs of Tennis Channel on court.
“And obviously, Maria, she’s an incredible player. She’s on the top of the game for a long time, and it’s going to be a difficult match.”
Sakkari leads Gauff 4-1, including a straight-sets win in the round of 16 in Rome last year.
After losing in the first round of Wimbledon to fellow American Sofia Kenin, Gauff restructured her coaching team, keeping Spaniard Pere Riba as her primary coach while adding Brad Gilbert as a consultant.
Gilbert, a former world No. 4 who has coached Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick and is the author of the fabled tennis book “Winning Ugly,” was in Gauff’s player box for the semifinals, along with Riba.
“We have just started this week, and right now we have plans just for the week,” Gauff said of Gilbert. “I mean, obviously how things go, we may expand in future tournaments.
“Working with him has been great. I really didn’t know him that well other than the commentating, just a little bit seeing his past coaching performances, but those were before I was born.”
It’s hard to know exactly how much Gilbert will impact Gauff’s game, but she wasn’t broken once in the semifinal while banging out eight aces against no double faults. Her forehand, which can sometimes break down, looked steady and penetrated the court.
Gauff broke Samsonova on 3-of-10 break chances.
“The returning was really vital today,” she said. “She probably has a top-2 best second serves on the tour. I’ve never seen someone get triple-digits on the second consistent as many time as she did.
“And then also the way I was striking the ball, she hits clean on the forehand and I think I was hanging in there on both sides.”
Gilbert worked with Agassi, one of the best returners of all time.
“I’m looking for someone that has a plan long term and short term,” Gauff said this week. “Obviously in season there is a lot you can do but you don’t want to make many major changes. Yeah, I was looking for someone that had a plan post-U.S. Open and sort of leading up to U.S. Open.”
The U.S. Open begins Aug. 28.
Gauff also praised Riba, a former ATP player from Spain who most recently coached Zheng Qinwen.
“Now that I have been working with him, had a couple of weeks to train, I do feel like he’s someone that I want to continue with,” Gauff said. “Obviously a little bit of results matter, so hopefully the results will go well. But I do feel that we have a solid team right now. I feel stable. I feel like I have improved.”
Now she can win her second career title in her seventh final – and her first on American soil.
Of her past record against Sakkari, Gauff said; “It’s the past, you live and you learn so hopefully I can learn from that and come back better tomorrow.”