19-year old Coco Gauff fulfilled the promise she has shown over the past 4 years by winning the US Open, her first Grand Slam title at her second attempt, producing a stunning come-back against Aryna Sabalenka, handcuffing the very soon-to-be World No 1 in Saturday’s final in New York, 2-6 6-3 6-2.
“Honestly, thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me. Like 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 I was going to get. So three weeks later, I’m here with this trophy right now. I tried my best to carry this with grace and I’ve been doing my best. So honestly, to those who thought [they] were putting water on my fire, you’re really adding gas to it. And now I’m really burning so bright right now. Coco Gauff
It is the stuff that fairytales are made of, the American teenage under-dog conquering the rampant 2nd seed from Belarus, who many thought would clinch her second major title after winning the Australian Open in January and has dominated the women’s tour all season,.
“Oh my goodness…” said Gauff at the trophy ceremony. “I feel like I’m a little bit in shock.
“That French Open [2022 final] loss [to Iga Swiatek] was a heartbreak, but this makes it even more sweeter than I could imagine. I’m so blessed in this life.
“I just knew that if I didn’t give it my all, Aryna is an incredible, incredible player, the fire you bring to the court is something that makes sport better.”
Gauff won the titles in Washington and Cincinnati, and now has added the US Open to her growing portfolio.
Meanwhile, Sabalenka broke the curse of 3 semi-final exits at Grand Slams by winning her maiden major in Melbourne, and although she went on to lose in the Last 4 at the French Open and Wimbledon this summer, she made it into the final in New York despite losing 11 of the opening 14 games to Madison Keys, who had been serving for the match in their semi-final.
Having ended one American dream, Sabalenka was out to crush another, well aware that the majority of New Yorkers would be rooting against her.
When the 25-year old Belarusian blazed her way through the opening set with the roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium closed to thundering rain outside, the outcome looked firmly to be going her way, despite the deafening encouragement of Gauff’s efforts by the partisan American sell-out crowd.
Although the Belarusian was racking up the unforced errors, she was still dominating almost every rally while taking the first set.
Gauff got herself on the scoreboard in the 3rd game, a nerve-settler having been bagelled in their last encounter at Indian Wells in March.
Then, Sabalenka’s gremlins returned as she coughed up 2 double-faults to gift her opening break back, but she broke Gauff twice more, as the American struggled to cope with her ferocious power.
Despite her 14 unforced errors to 8 winners, Sabalenka crucially kept Gauff down to 3 winners 10 miscues to pocket the opener.
Gauff is renowned for her speed, determination and fighting skills, and she dug deep, now absorbing Sabalenka’s power and making her play just one more shot whenever possible, the crowd roaring her on.
She had started to weave her web, and her world-class defence began to bite, frustrating the No 2 seed, who was soon spraying yet more groundstrokes long and wide, and burying her overhead smashes into the net.
The turning point came early on in the second, when Gauff saved 2 break points in the opening game, and took the lead for good when she broke Sabalenka to lead 3-1.
From 1-1, the teenager had met the moment, winning 9 of 11 games to take a 4-0 lead in the final set, and she never looked back as Sabalenka unravelled.
In all, Sabalenka racked up 46 unforced errors in the match to her 25 winners, while 6th-seeded Gauff struck 13 winners to her 19 miscues, although, in the deciding set, the American hit 5 winners to just 2 mistakes.
“In first set, I was dealing with my emotions quite good,” Sabalenka said afterwards. “I was focused on myself, not on the crowd or the way she move.
“She was moving just unbelievable today. But then, the second set, I start probably overthinking, and, because of that, I start, kind of, like, losing my power. Then she start moving better. I start missing a lot of easy shots.
“There was key moments in … the moments I lost, and those moments helped her to turn around the game.”
Gauff kept her nose in front to force the deciding set, which started with a roar when she broke immediately, and then took another, which gave the young American some insurance.
Sabalenka took a medical timeout to get her left thigh massaged, and managed to stay alive by getting one of the breaks back for 4-2, but Gauff was not to be denied on this occasion, and soon it was all over.
Gauff broke yet again, and then served it out, emphatically holding her nerve to clinch victory after 2 hours and 5 minutes, and fulfilling her destiny to the roar of the crowd that nearly blew the roof off as everyone stood to applaud the new home champion.
“Thank you, first, to my parents,” Gauff said. “Today was the first time I’ve seen my dad cry. He thinks he’s so hard, but thank you guys, you believed in me from the beginning. My dad took me to this tournament watching Venus and Serena compete.”
She also called out those who had doubted her on social media, despite the two recent wins this summer.
“Honestly, thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me,” Gauff said. “Like 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 I was going to get.
“So three weeks later, I’m here with this trophy right now. I tried my best to carry this with grace and I’ve been doing my best.
“So honestly, to those who thought [they] were putting water on my fire, you’re really adding gas to it. And now I’m really burning so bright right now.”
Despite her message, Gauff had plenty of support from the New York crowd and on social media from tennis greats, including 6-time US Open champion Serena Williams, and former President Barack Obama.
Both Gauff and Sabalenka succumbed to tears, Gauff releasing her emotions after wining match point, and Sabalenka as disappointment coloured her acceptance of the runners-up trophy until she was reminded that on Monday she will become the new World No 1.
“I’m just proud I was able to handle my emotions most of the time pretty well,” said Sabalenka, whose first question during the trophy ceremony was about becoming the No 1. “That is the best thing about this year.
“I felt a lot of love through these couple of weeks. I just want to say congrats Coco, you played unbelievable.”
The Belarusian knows it will be hard to get over the sting of losing the US Open final, and thoughts of her family who were let down by her defeat, prompted more tears.
“They’ve been awake and watching,” she said. ”Sorry for this result.
“That’s why probably I’m not super depressed right now [becoming No 1]. I’m definitely going to be,” Sabalenka added. “I’m definitely going for a drink tonight — if I’m allowed to say that.
“As always, we’ll come back stronger, right?” Sabalenka asked her team after jokingly threateningly to fire.
She certainly did that after last year, when a loss to Swiatek in the semi-finals was the second straight year Sabalenka fell one match short of the final in Flushing Meadows.
She will finally see her name ahead of Swiatek’s, though, in the rankings on Monday, and wants it to stay there.
“It’s good that I can say I have been World No 1, but I really would like to finish the year as World No 1,” Sabalenka said. “That’s why I’m still positive, and I’m still motivated.”
Gauff showed great mental fortitude to win her maiden Major title, and when she was asked by a journalist in her press conference later, whether she had envisioned that she would be a Grand Slam tournament winner someday, the 19-year-old replied that she had fantasised about since her loss to Swiatek in the 2022 Roland Garros final.
“Honestly, you know, the French Open moment, I don’t know if they caught it on camera, but I watched Iga lift that trophy, and I watched her the whole time,” she said. “I said, I’m not going to take my eyes off her, because I want to feel what that felt like for her.”
Gauff added that she also had imagined herself as a Major winner in her early years as a junior player.
“When I was 13, I think, or 14, when I played US Open juniors, I watched the men’s final that year, so I had those envisions of myself then,” she said. “That felt like craziness today, lifting this trophy. It hasn’t sunken in and, I think, it probably will, maybe, in a week or so.
“Oh, I think the first was when I was eight and I would come, like, three times, three or four years in a row, to see Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day, and I was just watching, you know, players compete on this court.”
Since her 1st-round loss to Sofia Kenin at Wimbledon, Gauff is now 18-1 in her last 19 matches played, with her only loss coming to fellow American Jessica Pegula in the quarter-finals in Montreal, and 12 of those wins have been in a row, marking the longest winning streak of her career to date.
While Sabalenka will rise to World No 1 on Monday as a result of bettering Swiatek’s run at this tournament, Gauff, too, will hit a career-high ranking following her triumph as she will become the new World No 3 in singles, and, as an added bonus, she will also be elevated to co-No 1 with Pegula in doubles.