Coco Gauff becomes youngest tennis finalist in 15 years

Coco Gauff has become the WTA's youngest tennis finalist since Nicole Vaidisova in 2004 after beating Andrea Petkovic 6-4 6-4 Saturday.

Under normal circumstances, Coco Gauff wouldn’t have made the main draw at this week’s tournament in Linz, Austria.

But after getting a bit of luck, the 15-year-old has taken full advantage to become the WTA’s youngest tennis finalist since Nicole Vaidisova in 2004 after beating Andrea Petkovic 6-4 6-4 Saturday.

Gauff became a crowd favorite and household name at Wimbledon in July when she qualified, then beat one of her idols, Venus Williams, as part of a weeklong stay at tennis’ most prestigious grand slam. She showed poise well above her teenaged years.

Gauff was congratulated by the likes of former first lady Michelle Obama and actor and musician Jaden Smith, the son of Will Smith.

Then as a wildcard at her home major, the US Open in August, it took the defending champion, Naomi Osaka, to stop the Florida resident in the third round.

Limited in the number of WTA events she can play due to her age, Linz marked Gauff’s first tournament since New York.

“This is my first final and first tournament on the WTA ever making it to anything ‘final’ at the end, like quarterfinal or semifinal,” Gauff told reporters. “Obviously a lot of players play for the grand slams and want to win slams but I think this is a good stepping stone in the right direction.

“This kind of proves I’m able to hang in on this level and I’m really proud of myself today.”

A “lucky loser”

She fell in qualifying to Tamara Korpatsch but snuck into the main draw as a “lucky loser” when another player pulled out injured, beat Stefanie Voegele in the first round and advanced to her first-ever quarterfinal when Kateryna Kozlova — who won the first set — retired with a left leg injury.

Good fortune then for Gauff but there was no luck involved as she stunned top-seed Kiki Bertens Friday to post a first top-10 victory.

On Saturday she followed it up by downing former top-10 player Petkovic — who at 32 is more than double Gauff’s age. Gauff saved nine of 10 breakpoints.

“First time in my life, even in juniors, that I got into something as a lucky loser and now I’m in the final,” said Gauff. “I guess every little thing counts and you never know what it can lead to.”

And yes, the fans have taken to Gauff in Linz, too.

Her ranking will climb from its current 110th to around 80th even if she loses Sunday to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, meaning Gauff will earn a direct spot into the next grand slam, January’s Australian Open, instead of having to go through qualifying or needing a wildcard.

Dad Corey is an ever present in her box and mom Candi — whose celebrations at Wimbledon went viral — flew in to Europe Saturday, ready to join the team for Gauff’s next tournament in Luxembourg. She was able to get to Linz in time for Gauff’s victory.

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