The 19-year-old tennis star spoke with ESPN on Thursday night after she became the youngest American player to reach the US Open Final since Serena Williams did in 1999, when Williams won the first Grand Slam tournament of her storied career.Gauff was asked about “taking the torch” from the 23-time Grand Slam winner Williams and the symmetry between their tennis careers, especially after qualifying for the final round on Thursday.
“Serena is Serena,” Gauff said. “She’s the GOAT. I’d hope to do half of what she did. But I’m not gonna compare myself to her.”Gauff said Williams, who retired after the US Open last year, is “ someone I look up to” and that “being in the same stat line as her means a lot to me.”
“She’s my idol,” Gauff continued. “The only regret I’ll have for the rest of my life is not being able to play her. There were so many tournaments where if we won an extra round and didn’t lose, I would’ve played her. But I’m still happy to just be a product of her legacy and be out here for American tennis.”
Gauff is now chasing down her first Grand Slam tournament win, just as Williams was in 1999.The Florida native told PEOPLE before the US Open that “the goal is to win,” coming into the New York City tournament with momentum, winning three WTA tournament championships already this year and having knocked off the World No. 1 player Iga Swiatek last month.
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE’s free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from celebrity news to compelling human interest stories. Gauff said she’s been focused on managing her nerves heading into matches as of late and also began working with a new coach this summer — all in hopes of getting herself over the hump and capturing her first Grand Slam.
It would mean a lot to me,” Gauff told PEOPLE. “For me, the goal is to win. That’s the ultimate goal. Obviously, there’s minor ones along the way, and I think the biggest one is trying to make sure I control the matches on my side of the court, and I think that will help me get to that ultimate goal. Gauff defeated Karolina Muchova on Thursday in straight sets to advance to the finals on Saturday, where she’ll play the tournament’s No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus. It will be Gauff’s second-ever Grand Slam final, following last year’s French Open loss in the final round to Swiatek.
“I play good tennis when I’m the most relaxed and I think when I played the French Open final [in 2022], I think I was too focused on the expectations, that I had to win,” Gauff told ESPN on Thursday. “Now it’s more so I’m here because I want to and I believe in myself. I don’t think I believed in myself then.”