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US Open final: Why Coco Gauff will win (and why Aryna Sabalenka could too)

Coco Gauff celebrates her US Open semifinal victory against Karolina Muchova. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

The US Open final is set, with Coco Gauff set to face off against Aryna Sabalenka for the final major title of the year.

It’s the teenage sensation against the impending world No. 1, as Sabalenka will take the top spot when the new rankings come out next week. Gauff, for her part, will move up in the rankings as well — and the 19-year-old American could even attain a career-high ranking of No. 3 with her first Grand Slam win.

Based on their head-to-head history, Gauff comes out on top, having won three matches over Sabalenka and losing just two. But their only matchup this year – at Indian Wells in March – went Sabalenka’s way, with the 25-year-old Belarusian claiming a straight-sets win.

Sabalenka and Gauff will face off for the title at 4 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN.

Why Coco Gauff will win

When Gauff was just 15 years old and breaking onto the scene at Wimbledon, Venus Williams looked at her and declared: “The sky’s the limit.” Now, Gauff has finally, seemingly, put it all together.

Watching the 19-year-old at this year’s US Open has been like watching someone come into their own right before your eyes. You’ve seen it with Carlos Alcaraz. With Gauff, it felt inevitable. And while a coaching change has aided in Gauff’s journey, she’s been knocking on this door for a while. Last summer, she made her first Grand Slam final at the French Open but admittedly felt overwhelmed by the moment. She just hasn’t had all of the pieces snap into place – until now.

We have been spoiled by the dominance of players like Serena and Venus, Roger and Rafa. So with Gauff, there has been a sense of impatience, of wanting to see what we know Gauff is capable of – what Gauff knows what she is capable of. So: Has she finally done it? Has she finally broken through?

That’s a lot of pressure for a teenager. Many 19-year-olds are spending their Saturdays in fraternity basements or studying for midterms. Gauff will spend hers on one of tennis’ biggest stages.

This US Open final will not make or break Gauff’s career. The reality is, she has a long one ahead of her, one which likely will include a stint at the top of the world rankings. This run is only the beginning. We can’t expect her to attain the greatness of Serena Williams — but that’s because she’s Coco Gauff. She’s writing her own story, her own journey, and this, right here, is one of the chapters.

Gauff will win Saturday because she’s finally unlocked her potential. She’s been playing her opponents in a way that she hasn’t before – at times allowing them to beat themselves and knowing exactly when to apply the pressure needed. (Even if Jelena Ostapenko somehow expected more out of Gauff after a 6-0, 6-2 beatdown). She’s shown impeccable poise and wisdom throughout the tournament, a level of maturity that some 19-year-olds can only dream of. There’s never been a moment where she’s gotten too far ahead of herself.

A first round exit at Wimbledon may have been a stumbling block for others, but it pushed Gauff to be better. Since then, she’s won 17 of her last 18 matches and has taken home two WTA titles. Everything, it seems, has fallen into place, and the game is clicking. It’s one of those things that you can just see when watching her play: The way that she seems to have total control of the game, no matter what the score is. She’s everywhere on the court, all at once.

Why Aryna Sabalenka will win

Sabalenka knows she faces a tough test in the US Open final. But she’s ready for the fight.

“Going into this final, I think I just have to focus on myself and prepare myself for another fight,” she said Thursday. “You just have to be there and you have to fight for it.”

She knows the crowd will be behind Coco Gauff. But she’s not about to be the world No. 1 for no reason. On Thursday, she was blanked in the first set – the first 6-0 win in a US Open semifinal since 2013 – and down 5-3 in the second set to Madison Keys. But she never gave up the fight. She’s just the third woman in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam semifinal after losing the first set 6-0, joining Steffi Graf (1992 Roland Garros) and Ana Ivanovic (2008 Australian Open).

“I was all over the place,” Sabalenka said after the match. “I was just, like, ‘What can I do?’ Like, she’s playing unbelievable, just, like, crushing everything. I’m not able to do anything; I had zero control in the match.

“I just [kept] telling myself, I mean, ‘OK, there is going to be days like this [where] somebody’s going to just play their best tennis. You just have to keep trying, keep staying there and keep pushing it. Maybe you’ll be able to turn around this game.'”

Sabalenka’s biggest opponent has always been herself. And on Thursday, she won that battle, winning a tiebreak in the second set and again in the third to reach her first US Open final. Already a Grand Slam champion after winning the Australian Open title earlier this year, Sabalenka has been on a roll. Semifinal appearances at the French Open and Wimbledon were both career bests. She’s the first player since Serena Williams in 2016 to reach the semifinals in all four majors in the same season.

There’s not been anyone better on the tour this year than Sabalenka, not even current No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

On paper, Sabalenka is the better player. She’s weathered the biggest tests of her career and come out ahead. By no means will Saturday’s final be easy, and in fact it might prove to be one of the best major finals of the year, but Sabalenka has what it takes to weather whatever Gauff may throw at her and take home her second title of the year.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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