Coco’s a champion! Gauff rallies past Sabalenka to win US Open

Coco Gauff, of the United States, reacts during a match against Aryna Sabalenka, of Belarus, during the women's singles final of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Coco Gauff has her first Grand Slam title. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Coco Gauff has been earmarked as the future of women’s tennis since she was 15 years old. That future arrived at the US Open on Saturday, in the form of her first Grand Slam championship.

The 19-year-old American outlasted No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, the new top-ranked player in the WTA, in a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 thriller in the US Open final at Arthur Ashe Stadium. She becomes the 11th teenager to ever win a Grand Slam singles title, and the question now becomes how many more are in front of her.

It took an epic comeback against Madison Keys just for Sabalenka to reach the final, but there was no slow start by the Belarusian this time. Sabalenka opened the match by breaking Gauff in front of a highly partial New York City crowd looking for the first American US Open champion since Sloane Stephens in 2017.

Gauff broke Sabalenka back three games later, but that was the last game she’d win in the first set. Sabalenka, one of the hardest hitters on tour, showed a form so overpowering that even Gauff’s speed couldn’t neutralize her.

That was particularly clear in a wild point as Sabalenka tried to consolidate a break. Gauff covered every area of the court, but that just gave Sabalenka the opportunity to hit her harder and harder:

Gauff got the momentum change the crowd was looking for early in the second set, breaking Sabalenka to go up 3-1 and holding serve from there to take the second set. Gauff got steadily more aggressive rather than let Sabalenka pound away at the ball in extended rallies, and started winning some truly wild points:

Gauff kept up the pressure in the third set, breaking Sabalenka twice to take a commanding lead. She committed zero unforced errors in the first four games of the set, while Sabalenka committed nine as her composure started fading.

By the end of the match, Gauff was showing the kind of form that seemed impossible to beat. Her speed alone made her a nightmare for opponents to put away, but when combined with the shot-making she showed against Sabalenka, it becomes clear why so much has been expected from her over the last four years.

All of those parts finally came together in New York this year. As long as Gauff can keep them together, there’s no limit to what can be expected from her over the next decade-plus.

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