American Coco Gauff rallies to defeat Aryna Sabalenka in dramatic finish
Queens, New York (CNN) — Coco Gauff, the world No. 10 women’s singles player, has defeated Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, with a dramatic comeback in the women’s US Open final.
The star-studded crowd erupted with applause after Gauff’s home-turf victory at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens. The win is 19-year-old Gauff’s first career grand slam and makes her the first American teenager to win the US Open since 23-time major champion Serena Williams took the title in 1999.
“I feel like I’m in shock at this moment,” said an emotional Gauff after her win. “God puts you through tribulations and trials, and that makes this moment sweeter than I would have imagined.”
She thanked her family, her team, and “the people who didn’t believe in me.”
Bidding for her second major title of the year, the soon-to-be women’s world No. 1 Sabalenka made quick work in the first set, breaking Gauff’s serve three times to win 6-2 in dominant fashion.
However, with the packed crowd chanting “Let’s go Coco,” Gauff raised her level in the second set, going up a break before eventually taking it 6-3 to force a deciding third set.
A locked-in Gauff took control in the third set, going up a double break to inch ever closer to her maiden grand slam title. Although Sabalenka took the next two games, Gauff closed out the match to become the 12th teenager in US Open history to win the title.
“I don’t know, I just knew that if I didn’t give it my all, I had no shot at winning,” Gauff said on how she found the strength to rally after dropping the first set.
In her run to the final, the athlete twice lost the first set of a match, once in the first round against Laura Siegemund and again in the third round against Elise Mertens.
With the victory, Gauff becomes the third American teenager to win the US Open title, joining Williams and Tracy Austin. She is set to move up to No. 3 in the WTA singles rankings, and co-No. 1 in doubles along with compatriot Jessica Pegula.
After clinching the victory, Gauff dropped to the ground before getting up to hug Sabalenka. Afterward, Gauff was overcome with emotion and knelt down to take in the moment.
Gauff poked fun at her father after the match as she thanked her family. “Thank you first to my parents,” she said. “Today was the first time I’ve ever seen my dad cry. He doesn’t want me to tell y’all that, but he got caught in 4K!”
Meanwhile, despite the loss, the Belarusian star will move to No. 1 in the WTA singles rankings on Monday, ending Iga Swiatek’s 75-consecutive week reign.
Sabenka congratulated her competitor, saying, “I hope we play in many more finals” and calling Gauff “amazing.”
The American in turn congratulated Sabenka on her rise to the No. 1 position. “Aryna is an incredible player,” she said. “Congratulations on the no. 1 ranking, it’s well deserved.”
At a news conference after the match, Sabalenka said the loss was a “lesson” for her and she had started “overthinking” during the second set.
“It’s me against me,” she said. Gauff “was moving really and defending better than anybody else.”
“I was playing against the crowd,” she added.
A first grand slam for Gauff
The last time Gauff and Sabalenka met was in the quarterfinals of Indian Wells in March, with the Belarusian winning comfortably, 6-4 6-0. Saturday’s final was an altogether different contest, however, with Gauff improving rapidly in the six months that have passed since that defeat.
The 19-year-old has won three WTA titles this season, including the biggest of her career in Cincinnati just before the US Open, and has won 17 of her last 18 matches. She is the youngest American woman to reach the US Open final since a 17-year-old Serena Williams did so in 1999.
“Serena is Serena. She’s the GOAT. I hope to do half of what she did,” Gauff said, per the WTA.
The competition was the second grand slam final of Gauff’s career after reaching the French Open final in 2022, where she was swiftly defeated by Iga Swiatek.
But following her 6-4 7-5 semifinal win over Karolína Muchová, Gauff spoke about the improvement in her mentality, going from somebody blighted by imposter syndrome to now believing she is capable of contending with the best players in the world.
“I think it’s [imposter syndrome] still a part of me,” she said. “It’s something I’m doing better with, definitely. Even after [winning Washington] DC, I still was like: ‘Well, I beat some good people, but maybe I caught them on off days.’
“It’s still definitely a part of me, but I do think I’m giving myself more credit more and speaking things into existence is real. I’ve been trying to speak more positively of myself and actually telling myself that I’m a great player.”
The sixth seed told reporters that after her first-round Wimbledon loss she was “preparing for next year,” before adding she was “really proud of myself” for the way she has performed at Flushing Meadows.
“I have been focusing more on myself and my expectations of myself,” said Gauff, per Reuters. “I really believe that now I have the maturity and ability to do it.”
‘Just keep fighting’
Until her semifinal against Madison Keys, Sabalenka had been dominant in New York – not dropping a set and never losing more than five games in a match.
However, she was pushed all the way by the American on Thursday and had to bounce back from a brutal 6-0 first-set loss, eventually winning 0-6 7-6 (7-1) 7-6 (10-5).after two-and-a-half hours of grueling tennis.
Such was the likelihood of a Keys victory late in the second set, Gauff was even asked about the prospect of facing her fellow American in her post-match press conference.
Sabalenka’s run to the final of the US Open caps off a remarkable year in which she won three titles – including her first grand slam at the Australian Open and her sixth Masters 1000 title in Madrid.
Despite winning the last time they met, Sabalenka heralded Gauff’s development this season and says she is a “much better” player now than she was six months ago.
“She’s improved a lot,” Sabalenka told reporters after her semifinal. “So it’s a different player – we don’t really like thinking about that match.
“Going into this final, I think I just have to focus on myself and prepare myself for another fight. No matter what, just keep fighting and keep playing my best and do my best.
“You know, there is nothing much you can, what else can you do? You just have to be there and you have to fight for it.”
Sabalenka will no doubt have to play before a partisan crowd in Saturday’s final, but having already overcome an intense atmosphere against Keys on Thursday, she said she felt confident of handling the occasion.
“Of course, I would prefer [to] have someone else or [the] crowd be a little bit the same to both players, but today’s match I think is gonna help me in the final because I’ll be fine with this support. I’ll be all right,” she said.
“I’m still hoping that probably some of them will be supporting me – just a little bit. Just sometimes, please. Please,” she laughed.
This story was first published on CNN.com, “US Open women’s final: American Coco Gauff rallies to defeat Aryna Sabalenka in dramatic finish.”
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