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4 winners and 4 losers that defined the 2019 US Open

Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka didn’t win the championship, but their match changed the US Open.

A smiling Coco Gauff after a match victory with partner Catherine McNally at the US Open.
Coco Gauff!
Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

The 2019 edition of the two weeks of tennis known as the US Open has come to an end. Champions were crowned: Canadian Bianca Andreescu vanquished Serena Williams and the women’s field, Rafael Nadal conquered the men’s side, Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah were crowned men’s doubles champions, Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka won women’s doubles, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jamie Murray won the mixed doubles title.

But the official scores only tell one part of the story: who won the last match of the tournament.

These last two weeks brimmed with intrigue, drama, a hero named Coco, and even some good old villainy, thanks to a Russian young gun. While only one champion is crowned in each field of the tournament, a player doesn’t have to take home a title to be a winner. Likewise, not every player who doesn’t leave with one is a loser. (Not even the official champions are always heroes in fans’ eyes.)

Here are four winners and four losers of the 2019 US Open.

Winner: Serena Williams

Serena Williams didn’t win her finals match against Canadian (and relative newcomer) Bianca Andreescu, which means she’ll need to play another six matches at another Grand Slam if she wants an opportunity to catch Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. But down 6-3, 5-1 in the finals, Williams showed toughness and clawed back to 5-5. While she wasn’t on the top of her game, Williams treated fans to flashes of greatness, blitzing Andreescu and an array of aces, forehands, and power tennis that helped Williams win her 23 earlier Grand Slams.

Every point Williams scored was met with loud, goosebump-inducing applause. Fans were rooting for her to make good on her “comeback” — Williams hasn’t won a Grand Slam since giving birth to her daughter in 2017. But it was not meant to be, as Andreescu would eventually win the match in two sets, 6-3, 7-5. Still, Williams showed that even on days when she isn’t the dominating force we’ve come to know as Serena Williams, she’s capable of immense fight and mud-in-her-veins grit — something she’ll need to catch Court’s record.

Winners: Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka

It takes a star of supernova wattage to stand among the likes of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Serena Williams, who were all major forces at the 2019 US Open. But that is exactly what 15-year-old Coco Gauff did. Gauff’s game is a splendid mix of power and grace, an electric backhand mixed with breezy footwork and movement, and a joy to watch.

In the third round of the tournament, she went up against world number one and 2018 US Open champion Naomi Osaka. As Osaka hit rocket-like returns, Gauff became over-matched in the second set, losing it 6-0. But before stepping off the court, the two shared a moment of great sportsmanship, with Osaka encouraging Gauff to stay on the court for the post-match interview, in which Osaka thanked the crowd and applauded Gauff’s effort. It was the single best moment of sportsmanship at the US Open in recent memory.

Loser: Novak Djokovic

One of the most cruel things about tennis is how under-appreciated and misunderstood Novak Djokovic is. If he had ascended during a different era, he’d be considered the greatest player of all time. But in going up against Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, he has assumed the role of spoiler — the cocky heel to Federer’s beautiful game and the slick villain to Nadal’s relentlessness.

Fresh off a dramatic championship win at Wimbledon, Djokovic was looking to add another Grand Slam title at the Open, which would have brought his total to 17 and put him on a path to catching up with Federer’s record of 20 titles. But then he went up against perennial good guy, the beloved Stan Wawrinka, in the third round of the tournament; down 4-6, 5-7, 1-2, with the crowd on Wawrinka’s side, Djokovic ultimately retired from the match with a shoulder injury and was met with boos from the crowd (which even Toni Nadal, Rafael’s ex-coach and uncle, said were unfair).

Winner: the women’s draw

Thanks in large part to the excitement of Serena Williams chasing history and Coco Gauff’s magic run, the women’s side of the tournament was the bigger draw. Williams’ and Gauff’s stories weren’t the ones to bring the drama, though. Taylor Townsend, 23, who was at one time America’s brightest tennis hope, finally put the pieces together and notched a big win against Wimbledon champion Simona Halep.

Halep, along with top-ranked players like number two seed Ashleigh Barty and third-seeded Karolina Pliskova, were all bounced early, signifying the depth and parity in the women’s field that churned out much of the most entertaining moments at the Open. And in vanquishing Williams, 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian player in history to win a Grand Slam singles tournament.

Loser: Daniil Medvedev

It takes a lot to make tennis fans hate a player more than current tennis bad boy Nick Kyrgios, whose constant temper tantrums have defined his career more than his talent. Enter Daniil Medvedev, a lanky 6-foot-6 Russian backboard with a precise two-handed backhand who, in the span of three matches, became the tour’s most reviled villain.

Medvedev’s history already includes a $14,500 fine in 2017 at Wimbledon and a disqualification for racist remarks, but it was his behavior during his third-round match against Feliciano Lopez that most unnerved the New York City crowd.

In the first set, he threw a tantrum, and, in behavior reminiscent of a toddler having a meltdown, Medvedev violently snatched a towel from a ball person and then sneered at the chair umpire Damien Dumusois after he was reprimanded with a code violation. Most shocking was when he went on to slyly flash a middle finger toward Dumusois during a changeover. And when he won the match, Medvedev told the crowd: “I want all of you to know when you sleep tonight, I won because of you.”

If there’s a silver lining to Medvedev’s fortnight, it’s that he showed grit, determination, and eventually humility in the men’s final after losing to Rafael Nadal in five sets — perhaps enough to make tennis fans forget about his awful antics earlier in the tournament.

Winner: The men’s final

While the women’s side of the field eclipsed the men’s, Nadal and Medvedev treated fans to an enduring and emotional five-set final. While many players would keel over when down two sets against Nadal and his persistent, grinding style of tennis, Medvedev steeled himself and settled in. Medvedev started changing his style, using all parts of the court to find brilliant angles and also outlasted Nadal during some of the match’s longest rallies. Just when Medvedev had fought back and irritated Nadal (Nadal was cited multiple times for taking too long to serve between points), Nadal squeaked by for the win after four hours and 50 minutes of play.

Loser: Fairytale endings

As tantalizing as Gauff and Williams’s stories were, and as feel-good as Grigor Dimitrov, Gael Monfils, and Townsend’s moments of resurgence were, happy endings were not in the cards for any of those players this year. Osaka bounced Gauff routinely, Williams was denied history, Dimitrov sputtered after his statement win against Roger Federer, Monfils lost in a heartbreaking fifth-set tiebreaker, and Townsend looked gassed in her final set against Andreescu. Despite the build-up, each of these players’ fairytale runs ended with little resistance.

Winner: The US Open

There’s still nothing quite like the hum in New York City when the US Open revs up. Mercedes Benz (the official sponsor) SUVs, sporting the “official vehicle” decals, start popping up throughout the city along (Mercedes Benz also teamed with 2017 champion Sloane Stephens to host a tennis clinic to commemorate the open). Shots of the pale pink “Honey Deuce,” the most photogenic libation served at the Open, start popping up on Instagram. New Yorkers take off work early (or skip altogether) to make the trek to Flushing, Queens, for the night matches — perhaps the last chance they’ll have to leave before quitting time until next summer.

And of course, there are the memories made, like Serena’s catsuit, Coco’s phenomenal run, Elina Svitolina and Gael Monfils’ budding romance, Anna Wintour’s outfits, and the royal flair of the Duchess of Sussex’s appearance, that make the US Open a magical place and the epicenter of tennis world — even if there were no obvious storybook endings this year.