Coco Gauff channeling NBA star Jimmy Butler in U.S. Open run

Coco Gauff was only two months ago embarrassingly bounced from Wimbledon in the first round.

Today? Gauff’s in top form. She won the tuneup tournament in Cincinnati less than two weeks ago, toppling No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the final. At Flushing this year, she’s the best hope for the first American champion — men or women — since Sloane Stephens in 2017.

The adjustment, Gauff said, was strictly mental. And it was inspired by one of her loyal fans, NBA star Jimmy Butler, who watched from courtside Wednesday as Gauff trounced Mirra Andreeva in the second round, 6-3, 6-2.

“That switch I had in the last couple weeks. people think some incredible thing happened,” the sixth-seeded Gauff said. “But realistically, the two weeks between Wimbledon and the next tournament I played, nothing could have really changed that much. It was really just the mental thing. I think that’s what I learned from watching Jimmy compete over the years.”

As a South Florida resident, Gauff is very familiar with Butler’s resilience and drive — especially when it matters most. She followed it through two Miami Heat appearances in the Finals in the last four seasons, with much of the team’s success forged from Butler’s dogged determination.

Gauff, still only 19, is hardly the same underdog as Butler, who was the last pick of the first round in 2011. But she’s also still waiting for the major championship to validate the hype that accompanied her rise as a 15-year-old prodigy.

To that end, Wednesday was certainly encouraging. Gauff won the final 10 points and needed only 76 minutes to dump Andreeva, a 16-year-old upstart from Russia who was overmatched from the opening serve.

“I’m happy I was able to get it in straight sets,” Gauff said. “Not a long match like the three hours last match. Saved myself some time today.”

Indeed, Wednesday was a lot easier, a lot less eventful, than Gauff’s outing two days earlier on the same Ashe court.

In her first-round victory, Gauff dropped the first set to veteran Laura Siegemund before grinding out an emotional victory. It lasted over three hours and Gauff complained, angrily and assertively, about Siegemund stalling.

Wednesday, by comparison, was a walk in Corona Park. Butler watched approvingly.

“I want her to win every single time,” he said.

Next up for Gauff is a third-round matchup against No. 32 Elise Mertens, the Cardiac Belgian of the U.S. Open. Mertens survived a combined five match points in her opening two rounds, including Wednesday’s 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-1 comeback over Danielle Collins of the U.S.

Mertens understands she’ll be playing against the desires of the New York crowd, which has been firmly in Gauff’s corner. Butler included.

“She’s definitely on a roll. She’s definitely one of the toughest to play against, I guess,” Mertens said. “But I’m going to give everything I have. I’m going to watch some of her past matches as well and try to play on my terms.”