Gauff downs Sabalenka to lift US Open trophy

NEW YORK - 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, claiming her first Grand Slam title and cementing her place in American tennis royalty. 

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 fought back in the second set 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. 

“It doesn’t get more dramatic than that, to be honest,” said Gauff, who lost in her only previous major final ap­pearance last year at Roland Garros. “I knew today was going to be one of those problem-solving tough matches because she’s a tough opponent, so I’m obviously happy with the result.” 

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. 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

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