Sabalenka fends off Keys to set up US Open title clash with Gauff

NEW YORK - American teenager Coco Gauff shrugged off disruption from climate protesters to reach the US Open final as Aryna Sabalen­ka survived a huge scare to stay on course for a second Grand Slam title. 

A night of nerve-shredding semi-final drama saw Gauff reach the final for the first time with a 6-4, 7-5 defeat of the Czech Republic’s 10th seed Kar­olina Muchova. The 19-year-old Gauff showed great poise to re­main unfazed after the match was halted for 49 minutes early in the second set when envi­ronmental activists staged a protest in the upper tiers of the Arthur Ashe Stadium. 

Play was held up as officials attempted to remove one of the protesters who had glued their bare feet to the concrete floor of the arena. The four protesters were later taken into police cus­tody. When play resumed, sixth seed Gauff closed out a hard-fought second set to advance to the second Grand Slam final of her career. 

The American teenager said while the enforced stoppage had been “challenging”, she had sympathy for the activists and their cause. “I definitely, I believe, you know, in climate change,” Gauff said. “I think there are things we can do bet­ter. “I prefer it not to happen in my match but I wasn’t pissed at the protesters. 

“Obviously I don’t want it to happen when I’m winning up 6-4, 1-0, and I wanted the mo­mentum to keep going. But hey, if that’s what they felt they needed to do to get their voices heard, I can’t really get upset at it.” 

The protest was the latest high-profile sporting event to be targeted by environmental activists in recent years. Other Grand Slam tennis events in­cluding Wimbledon and the French Open have also been dis­rupted by protesters. 

Gauff will face second seed Sabalenka in Saturday’s final. Sabalenka, 25-year-old from Belarus, who will take over the world No.1 ranking from Iga Swiatek at the conclusion of the tournament, has been in scintillating form in New York. But she was forced to come back from the brink to dig out a 0-6, 7-6 (7/1), 7-6 (10/5) win against American 17th seed Madison Keys in 2hr 32min to reach the final. 

“I’m really proud of myself that I was able to turn around this game and get this win, be­cause it was just incredible,” Sabalenka said after the vic­tory. “I was just, like, ‘Come on, keep trying, keep pushing, like, I don’t know, do some­thing extra. Just try to turn around this match.” 

“I think this kind of thinking really helped me to stay in the game and to keep trying, keep pushing, to still have this be­lief that I have a chance to turn around this match.”

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