American teenager Coco Gauff mounted a fierce comeback to beat Belarusian second seed Aryna Sabalenka 2-6 6-3 6-2 in the U.S. Open women’s final on Saturday and claim her first Grand Slam title in front of adoring home fans.
With the win, sixth seed Gauff became the first American to win a U.S. Open singles title since Sloane Stephens in 2017.
Gauff, 19, fed off noisy local support as she mounted a terrific second set fight back and kept the momentum going until the end of the battle before falling to the court on Arthur Ashe Stadium as she clinched the title with a backhand winner.
Sabalenka had a superb start but could not keep the momentum going as unforced errors piled up and she closed her 2023 Grand Slam run, which included an Australian Open title and semi-finals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, on a disappointing note.
I feel like I am a little bit in shock in this moment, said Gauff, who lost in her only previous major final appearance last year at Roland Garros.
You know that French Open loss (in last year’s final) was heartbreak for me but I realized that God puts you through tribulations and trials and this makes this moment even more sweeter than I can imagine.
There were early signs of nervousness from both players, as Gauff made a pair of unforced errors to help Sabalenka to a break in the opening game and the Belarusian dropped serve in the fourth game with two double faults and an unforced error.
The crowd urged on Gauff, the first American teenager to reach the U.S. Open singles final since Serena Williams in 2001.
But Sabalenka blocked out the noise and used her mighty forehand to convert on a break point chance in the fifth game.
The Belarusian was helped to another break in the seventh as Gauff double faulted and made two more costly forehand mistakes.
The 25-year-old Sabalenka, who will take over as world number one in the new rankings, had ended Gauff’s run at Indian Wells earlier this year but told reporters this week she expected a “different player” in Saturday’s final.
She ended up facing just that in the second set, as the American showed new resolve when she fended off a pair of break points in the first game and flipped the script.
What was once a lopsided affair turned into a battle as Gauff increased her intensity, sending Sabalenka scrambling around the court in the fourth game before the Belarusian dropped her serve with a double fault.
Gauff produced an overhead smash to break in the opening game of the third set and converted another in the third game.
Sabalenka took a medical timeout after the fifth game, consulting a physio for an apparent issue with her left thigh, but did not appear worse off as she broke in the next game.
If Gauff was rattled, however, she did not show it, winning a 20-shot rally before breaking back in the seventh game and soaking up the adoration of the crowd at the major she grew up watching as she clinched the title.
After offering her opponent a hug, Gauff burst into tears and embraced her parents in the stands.
I just knew that if I didn’t give it my all I had no shot at winning. Aryna is an incredible player, she said. The fire that you bring to the court is something that makes sports better.
The tournament was celebrating 50 years of equal prize money at this year’s edition and pioneer Billie Jean King was on hand to offer Gauff the trophy.
I am, so blessed in this life. I am so thankful for this moment, like I don’t have any words for it to be honest, said Gauff.
Sabalenka had only dropped a single set en route to Saturday’s finale and had tears in her eyes as she offered her opponent credit, chuckling as she said she wanted more finals against the American – but with different results, hopefully.
“I just want to send a lot of love to my family. They’ve been awake and watching. Sorry for this result,”
The win delivered on years of enormous expectations hoisted upon the young American Gauff’s shoulders after she became the youngest ever to qualify for the Wimbledon main draw at 15 years old.
She found a new gear this summer, producing the best tennis of her career as she picked up a win in Washington and secured her first WTA 1000 title in Cincinnati, before embarking on a tremendous run through Flushing Meadows.
A month ago I won a 500 title and people said I would stop at that. Two weeks ago I won a 1000 title and people were saying that was the biggest it was gonna get,” said Gauff.
So three weeks later I am here with this trophy right now… to those who thought they were putting water on my fire you were really adding gas to it and now I am burning so bright.