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Coco Gauff fulfills Grand Slam destiny at US Open, stuns Aryna Sabalenka to complete summer renaissance
Sabalenka is set to become No. 1 on Monday, but Gauff will leave Flushing Meadows with the winner's trophy, rallying from a set down to win her first Grand Slam title.
Published Sep 09, 2023
THE BREAK: Celebrating the 50th anniversary of equal pay at the US Open.
NEW YORK—Four years after a thunderous US Open debut, Coco Gauff fulfilled her Grand Slam destiny at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The No. 6 seed capped a summer renaissance with her first major title over ascending No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Fresh off returning to No. 1 ranking in doubles with Jessica Pegula, Gauff showed off all of her improvements when it mattered most— silencing a chorus of doubters who questioned everything from her forehand technique to her defensive style—and roared back from a set down to win in two hours and six minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“Thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me,” she said during the trophy ceremony. “Those who thought they were putting water on my fire were just adding gas to it.”
The final between Gauff and Sabalenka was their second meeting of the season, the first being back at the BNP Paribas Open when the latter, in the afterglow of her first major victory in Melbourne, dropped just four games en route to the final.
Gauff’s form had already begun to stagnate by the time they arrived in the California desert, culminating in a shocking first-round exit at Wimbledon that inspired the American teenager to revamp her coaching team to include Pere Riba and Brad Gilbert.
“It's been difficult,” Gauff said after the match. “I mean, it's been a long journey to this point. I wasn't a fully developed player, and I still think I have a lot of development to go at that moment. I think people were putting a lot of pressure on me to win. I felt that at 15 I had to win a slam at 15.
“I think that was, you know, not the mistake, because everything led to this moment so there was no mistakes. But that was, like, a little bit of the pressure that I was feeling. Now I just realize that I just need to go out there and try my best.
“I mean, it was to the point where I remember I lost when I was 17 and there was a stat, they were like, Oh, she's not going to win a slam before Serena's age. It was stuff like that that I felt like I had a time limit on when I should win one, and if I won one after a certain age it wouldn't be an achievement. It's just crazy the amount of things that I have heard or seen about myself, but I'm really happy of how I've been able to manage it all.”
The switch yielded immediate dividends as Gauff went on a tear through the summer swing, losing just one match and winning titles at both the Mubadala Citi DC Open and the Western & Southern Open. At the latter, she won her first WTA 1000 title and scored her first victory over world No. 1 Iga Swiatek in seven tries.
Gauff, who first arrived to Flushing Meadows as a talented junior and rolled into the third round of the main draw as a 15-year-old in 2019, brought that renewed commitment to aggressive tennis mixed with her inimitable fighting spirit to her fifth main-draw appearance.
“I feel like this is a big achievement, but honestly, I feel like I've been so used to this since I was basically 15 years old in high school, doing online school, just used to it,” Gauff said. “I mean, I'm sure it might be a much bigger scale now because of this achievement, but I'm ready. I mean, I embrace it. I know how to keep my peace but also embrace all of this around me.
“Yeah, I think the pressure has been a little bit taken off a little bit, and I still am hungry for more. But yeah, I'm just going to enjoy this and try not to look into the future.”
The Florida native battled through three-setters against Laura Siegemund, Elise Mertens, and Caroline Wozniacki to make her second straight US Open quarterfinal. The 19-year-old then eased through straight-sets wins over 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko and 2022 runner-up Karolina Muchova—in spite of a lengthy climate change protest—to reach her second career major final.
But across the net was arguably her most formidable challenge yet in Sabalenka, who guaranteed her accession to the No. 1 ranking following Swiatek’s exit to Ostapenko, and was a perfect 13-0 at major hard-court matches in 2023. After starting the season with a much-anticipated first Grand Slam victory, Sabalenka shook off heartbreaking semifinal defeats at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon to pull off a dramatic comeback less than 48 hours ago against Madison Keys. Rallying from an 0-6 first set, she won a pair of tiebreakers to also reach her second major final.
The opening set saw several shifts in momentum as Sabalenka sought to regain her early advantage following an exchange of breaks. A long sixth game saw the No. 2 seed surge ahead and not look back, capitalizing on some loose shots from the hitherto rock-solid Gauff to put herself six games from her second major victory.
On defense for much of the match, Gauff crucially saved break points in the opening game of the second and got the Ashe crowd involved as she edged ahead by a break of her own. Saving another break point to consolidate, the American thrilled the home fans by drawing a 30th unforced error from the over-eager Sabalenka and hold on, forcing a decider with impeccable poise.
As Sabalenka continued to overpress off both wings—ending the match with a disappointing 46 unforced errors—Gauff broke the ensuing final set wide open and raced through the first four games before her rival was even able to get on the board. Once Sabalenka did, she called a medical time out to address a upper left leg injury.
Though she clawed back one of the breaks, Sabalenka couldn't break Gauff's air-tight rhythm and soon the young American fulfilled her destiny with a magical backhand passing shot.
Gauff is projected to rise to a career-high ranking of No. 3 following this victory.