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Coco Gauff heads into semifinal match against Karolína Muchová with momentum

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today, the U.S. Open tennis semifinals in New York include the American Coco Gauff. She is 19, which is prime time for tennis players, and she has looked like she's in her prime on her way into the semis. We're going to go now to Courtney Nguyen, a senior writer for WTA Insider in New York. Welcome.

COURTNEY NGUYEN: Hello.

INSKEEP: OK, so I got a chance to see Coco Gauff in the quarterfinals - I mean, from my couch. I wasn't in New York. But even through the screen, you could sense this person's power and enthusiasm. She seemed to be having a great time. What makes her a good player?

NGUYEN: Yeah. I mean, her charisma on the court is what brings people in. But what makes her a great player is really the X's and O's of tennis. She's an incredible athlete, has been since she started on the tour at 15 years old - incredible court coverage, big serve, good forehand, good backhand. She has incredible grit in terms of how she competes, and that's how she's been able to just get the tennis world on her side from the very beginning. And now we're seeing kind of that swell into being a really big mainstream phenomenon within the sport.

INSKEEP: You know, you mentioned the charisma. Maybe this is a thing that happens all the time in tennis matches, but I don't often see it. They showed it on TV. After she won, she took maybe half a dozen tennis balls and began whacking them with her racket into the crowd. I thought that was a great moment.

NGUYEN: Yeah, she's just embracing all of it. And it's - even the little things that used to maybe create so much pressure in her own head. And she's been tagged as the next big thing since she was young. So she's always had, you know, next since Serena, next since Venus. And now she's starting to embrace it, and she's having a blast. I mean, I've never seen Coco smile and laugh as much as she has here in New York. And the fact that the results are going with it is just really encouraging.

INSKEEP: And you mentioned first since Serena. I guess we should mention she is - and you'll correct me if I'm wrong - the first person in her teens to make the semifinals since Serena Williams many years ago. Although she's getting...

NGUYEN: Yeah. Among the Americans, for sure.

INSKEEP: Yeah, among the Americans. Thank you. And now she's going to play Karolina Muchova, the Czech player, another star. What would you expect in this match-up?

NGUYEN: Yeah, I think this is going to be a really interesting match between them. They just played three weeks ago in the final of the biggest title that Coco has won in Cincinnati, and it was a pretty routine match. Karolina Muchova came in there a bit fatigued, a little bit banged up, couldn't deal with the heat. And Coco just cruised. I don't think we're going to see something similar tonight. It'll be played at 7 p.m. Muchova kind of deals with heat not very well, so it should be OK for her. And she's one of the most electric, exciting athletic players to watch as well. So it's going to be an interesting chess match between the two and a lot of really sublime shot making. So it's definitely the one to watch tonight.

INSKEEP: Having watched the game for a while, can you talk about what the pressure is like when you get to the semifinals and the finals? I mean, it's the same court, it's the same ball, it's the same racket, it's the same game. But I bet nothing feels the same at all for the players.

NGUYEN: No, I think you hit it right on the head there. Everything amplifies. You know, all the sounds that were kind of normal that you heard on the court now just are louder, bigger. And the stakes are right there. It is all tantalizingly close. You know, this massive title - this game-changing and life-changing title - and the racket gets heavier. And dealing with that pressure has been something that Gauff has kind of - it's been difficult for her to handle in the past. And now with all of these changes and with this new attitude, it'll be interesting to see how she handles it tonight.

INSKEEP: Courtney Nguyen of WTA Insider, it's a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

NGUYEN: Thanks, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLACK MILK SONG, "PLAY THE KEYS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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