June 21, 2024

CANCUN, Mexico — Coco Gauff overcame 17 double-faults and came back after being a game away from elimination at the WTA Finals on Friday, eventually moving into the semifinals after pulling out a 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory over Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova in a round-robin match.

“Mental toughness is the biggest thing I’m pleased with,” Gauff said. “That was a tough match. She’s not an easy player. Not easy conditions. And I stayed in there, every point, just fighting.”

She will face her good friend — and doubles partner — Jessica Pegula on Saturday in an all-American match with a berth in the final at stake. The other semifinal at the season-ending championship will feature No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka against the woman she replaced atop the rankings in September, No. 2 Iga Swiatek. The year-end No. 1 spot is on the line in Cancun, with Swiatek needing to grab the title in order to replace Sabalenka.

Gauff, the 19-year-old from Florida who won the U.S. Open in September, finished 2-1 in round-robin action. Four-time major champion Swiatek won their group by going 3-0, including a 6-1, 6-2 win against Ons Jabeur in windy and rainy conditions on Friday.

Sabalenka reached the semifinals for the second consecutive year, holding on to beat Elena Rybakina 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 on Friday in a contest repeatedly interrupted by showers the night before. That made Sabalenka 2-1 and allowed her to finish second in the other round-robin group, behind the unbeaten Pegula.

Gauff dropped four consecutive games and 16 of 21 points to go from leading the opening set to dropping it and trailing 1-0 in the next. There was a 25-minute rain delay early in the second set; perhaps that helped Gauff regroup a bit.

Still, Vondrousova managed to get in front and serve for the victory at 6-5 in the second. Gauff broke there to stay in it. And after briefly trailing in the third set, too, Gauff grabbed five of the match’s last six games. Vondrousova went 0-3 in the group stage.

“Every match, you want to win, but I knew that I needed to get (at least) a set — and hopefully a win — to even have the chance to move on,” Gauff said, “so I’m really happy I was able to buckle down and do my best to get through that.”

Sabalenka vs. Rybakina was halted Thursday night with Rybakina about to try to force a third set by serving for the second at 5-3. When they resumed, she did just that. But Sabalenka came through in the decider — although not without a bit of tension in the last game: She needed to save five break points, and required four match points to end it.

“Really tough conditions, and I’m super happy that I was able to get this win, no matter what,” said Sabalenka, who double-faulted 15 times.

This was a rematch of the Australian Open final in January, also won by Sabalenka.

Rybakina was eliminated with the loss Friday.

There were a half-dozen rain delays during Thursday’s stop-start-stop action.

“Just so much ups and downs,” said Rybakina, who won Wimbledon in 2022.

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