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.
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.
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!? 🤯 #USOpen pic.twitter.com/fTsvNi4N2A— wta (@WTA) September 8, 2023
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!? 🤯 #USOpen pic.twitter.com/fTsvNi4N2A
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.
What a turnaround for Aryna Sabalenka! pic.twitter.com/IGO1JWUYuv— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 8, 2023
What a turnaround for Aryna Sabalenka! pic.twitter.com/IGO1JWUYuv