Brilliant Gauff cracks Sabalenka code to win first Grand Slam at US Open

Coco Gauff won her first Grand Slam tournament on Saturday at the US Open against Aryna Sabalenka (2-6, 6-3, 6-2)

Coco Gauff US Open 2023 Frank Franklin II/AP/SIPA

Coco Gauff has put on an incredible display of fearless tennis to defeat soon-to-be world No 1 Aryna Sabalenka in the US Open final, winning her first Grand Slam title 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Saturday evening in New York.

After two weeks of winning with her B-game, the 19-year-old finally found her best tennis when it mattered most, coming from a set down for the fourth time this tournament to win her home slam.

It was a match defined by Gauff’s breath-taking defence, with the American running down Sabalenka’s ground strokes despite the Belarusian firing on all cylinders.

Sabalenka blows Gauff away with power in first set

Despite Coco Gauff winning this match in dominant fashion over the final two sets, across the first 10 games of the US Open final she was far from in control.

Aryna Sabalenka started strong, blasting powerful shots from inside the baseline to target Gauff’s forehand. The strategy worked, with Sabalenka winning a break in the opening game, and going on to claim a second just games later.

While Gauff looked the more nervous of the two, it was her approach to the match up in the first set that caused her to fall behind more than anything else. The American played far too passively, and though this led to some spectacular displays of defence at times, it also wasn’t enough to get her on top of Sabalenka’s power.

With Gauff’s forehand failing to fire as well under constant pressure from Sabalenka, the 19-year-old lost the first set 6-2, marked the fourth time this tournament that she had lost the opening set.

Gauff cracks Sabalenka’s power in second set

It took exactly an hour in the US Open final for Coco Gauff to finally assert herself over Aryna Sabalenka, and figure out what to do with the Belarusian’s power.

Early in the second set, Gauff began shortening her back swing, playing slightly less defensively, and going after her shots more rather than allowing Sabalenka to dictate all the play.

The result was in the fourth game of the second set, Gauff gained an opportunity to break, going up 3-1 as the clock struck the hour mark. The 19-year-old’s break of Sabalenka’s serve rallied the crowd behind her, and there was a real sense of the momentum shifting in this match.

From this point onwards, Sabalenka only won four more games.

Relentless defence, improved Gauff forehand drives Sabalenka errors

Suddenly, Aryna Sabalenka began spraying even more unforced errors, with the trade off of winners to errors becoming far less favourable. Sabalenka finished on 46 unforced errors for the match to just 26 winners (while Gauff was a more balanced 13 winners to 19 unforced errors).

Gauff also began to build confidence in her forehand, while continuing to play some incredible defensive shots. Though Sabalenka did well to mask any sense of frustration or defeatism, it was clear that the Belarusian only had one speed, and regardless of how much she threw at Gauff, it kept coming back over the net.

The ability of Gauff to constantly retrieve balls forced Sabalenka to go for more and more on her forehand, leading to a myriad of errors. Heading into this clash, the 25-year-old had made an average of 6.3 forehand errors, and by the start of the third set the Belarusian had already crossed 20 for the match.

Despite a medical timeout for Sabalenka at 4-1 in the deciding set dampening Gauff’s momentum and generating a brief wobble where the American was broken for 4-2, it was all one way traffic in the third set as Gauff broke back immediately.

Fittingly, the final game saw three consecutive Sabalenka errors bring up triple championship point, before Gauff sealed her maiden Grand Slam title with a cool backhand winner down the line.

Fired up Gauff gives shout out to God, family and haters

Speaking on-court after a hysterical Aryna Sabalenka giggled and sobbed her way through an incoherent runner up speech, Coco Gauff delivered some powerful words as she accepted the US Open trophy:

“It means so much to me. I’m a little bit in shock in this moment. You know, that French Open loss was tough for me. But God puts you through trials and tribulations for a reason, and that makes this even more sweet.”

The 19-year-old continued to thank her team, even taking the time to call her father out for crying on national television.

“Thank you first to my parents. Today was the first time I’ve ever seen my Dad cry. He thinks he’s so hard, but he just got caught in 4K.”

Gauff also revealed some of what has lit a fire under her this summer, with the American going 18-1 since losing in the first round of Wimbledon, declaring:

“Thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me. A month ago I won a 500 title and people said I’d stop at that. Two weeks ago I won a 1000 title, and people said that was as big as it’d get. Three weeks later, I’m here with this trophy.”

The win sees Gauff become only the third American teenager to win the US Open, with the sky clearly the limit for this talented 19-year-old.

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