Coco Gauff said she was overwhelmed with joy when she realized she won the U.S. Open women’s final on Saturday and her victory "still doesn't feel real at all."
The triumphant 19-year-old made history, becoming the youngest American to win the title since Serena Williams in 1999.
"It's still crazy," the star athlete said in an exclusive interview on NBC's "TODAY" show Monday, beaming in a yellow dress. "Even last night I was telling myself, 'You're a Grand Slam champion,' and it doesn’t feel real at all."
It was Gauff’s first major title with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.
The teenager fell on the ground and sobbed on the tennis court at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City after securing her win before a raucous crowd of adoring fans and A-list celebrities. She shared a heart sign to the camera before embracing her family.
“I feel like it hit all at once because I didn’t want to tell myself it was match point on the match points, I didn’t want to start shaking. So when it happened and like, finally it was over, my previous matches (have) taken me like six, seven match points to win and that was on the first one so I was a little bit shocked and I couldn’t breathe either,” Gauff said on the moment she realized she won.
She said she felt a wave of joy in winning, noting, "I would think in the past it would be more relief than joy, but I think with all the growth and maturity I’ve done it's definitely more joy than relief."
After winning, she got down on her knees, saying a prayer.
“I was just saying thank you and I understood like all the tough times were just to make that moment even sweeter. I think if it came easy, I wouldn’t feel as appreciative as I did in that moment,” she said.
She said the timing of her victory felt meant to be.
“Obviously when you’re losing, you’re like, ‘Why isn’t it happening now?’ It couldn’t have been any more perfect than this moment, doing it in the U.S., in New York City, it’s just incredible.”
Gauff revealed she was up until 1 a.m. the night before the match talking with her boyfriend.
She said they talked about “everything except [the match]. He asked if I wanted to talk about it and I was like ‘no,’” she recalled.
"My last time I was in a Grand Slam final I couldn’t sleep the whole night, but talking to him helped me go to sleep," she explained.
After winning, the first people she called were her brothers and grandmother from the court.
"Both my brothers were the first two people I called; they didn’t answer. Then I called my grandma and somebody that wasn’t her answered," she said, laughing. "And then finally my brother called me back, but by then the ceremony had started."
Gauff noted that her father donned a shirt during the match that said "Imagine."
"He just said he bought it at the beginning of the tournament. He said that he had an image that I was going to go make it to the final and he was going to wear that shirt if I did," Gauff said. "And I think just imagine, just imagine that your dreams can come true and you just have to keep working for it."
Gauff became one of the most famous faces in tennis following her impressive performance at Wimbledon in 2019, where she reached the fourth round as a 15-year-old qualifier.
Her mother, Candi Gauff, attributed her daughter’s success to her self-discipline.
“Coco is a very dedicated, self-disciplined person. She was very gifted as a child. She always strived to do her best. It comes from within her,” Candi Gauff said on the “TODAY” show.