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Tennis phenom Coco Gauff wins US Open at age 19


Coco Gauff put aside a bright start to claim her first Grand Slam title at the age of 19, coming back to defeat Aryna Sabalenka 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Saturday in the final of the US Open to the delight of a raucous crowd that was loud from start to finish.

Gauff, who is from Florida, is the first American teenager to win the country’s biggest tennis tournament since Serena Williams in 1999. If last year’s US Open was about saying goodbye to Williams as she competed for the last time, this year’s two weeks at New York became a “Welcome to the big time!” for Gauff.

This is the kind of triumph that has been, more or less, expected of Gauff since bursting onto the scene at the age of 15 by becoming the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history and reaching the fourth round in his Grand Slam debut in 2019.

Coco Gauff of the United States reacts during a match against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus during the women’s singles final of the US Open tennis championships on Sept. 9, 2023, in New York.

Charles Krupa/AP

She reached her maiden grand final at last year’s French Open, finishing as runner-up, and has now won the biggest trophy of her still-nascent career. Gauff won his 12th straight and 18th in his last 19 matches after a first-round exit at the All England Club in July.

Gauff, the No. 6 seed, did it on Saturday by resisting the power shown by Sabalenka in almost every swing of her racket, and eventually got used to it and managed to recover shot after shot. Gauff broke to start the third set on just one of those points, tracking down every ball that hit him until he finally hit a volley that he marked with a fist pump and a shout of “Let’s go!”

It was soon 4-0 in that set for Gauff. At 4-1, Sabalenka took a medical timeout while her left leg was massaged. Gauff stayed strong during the break — it lasted a few minutes, not the 50 during a climactic semifinal protest — practicing some serves.

When they resumed, Sabalenka broke to make it 4-2. But Gauff broke his back and soon served for the win, then fell flat on his back on the court. He soon climbed into the stands to find his parents and others for hugs.

“You did it!” Gauff’s mother told him, both of them crying.

Sabalenka came into the day with a 23-2 record at major tournaments in 2023, including her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January. The 25-year-old Belarusian was already assured of moving from No. 2 to No. 1 in the WTA rankings for the first time next week.

But fans reduced her to the foil role. As is often the case when an American plays in America, Gauff was the recipient of by far the largest crowd in the 23,000-capacity Arthur Ashe Stadium. His pregame television interview, which was shown on the arena’s video screens, was drowned out by the sound of applause and cheers echoing through the closed retractable roof.

Even in the early stages, Gauff’s winners were celebrated as if the game was over. So were Sabalenka’s mistakes. His faults and especially his double faults — and there were six in all, three in just his first two service games, plus another to give up a break in the second set — and several errors, including one over – backhand volley into the net and what appeared to be a much simpler forehand volley.

By the end, Sabalenka had committed 46 unforced errors, well over double Gauff’s total of 19.

Here’s another way to look at it: Gauff only needed to deliver 13 winners to accumulate 83 points on Saturday.

Sabalenka came out doing what she does, pretty much no matter the stage, the surface or the stakes: hit shots as hard as she can and punctuate them with strong exhalations.

That doesn’t mean that’s all it can do. One second set in particular showed that, when Gauff hit a lob that Sabalenka chased with her back to the net and, spinning, responded with a lob of her own to win.

When Sabalenka has everything right, it’s difficult for any opponent to handle her power, even someone as quick, smart and instinctive as Gauff, the court coverage of each ball managed to keep her in points that few other players would be. able to extend

And when Sabalenka misses the mark, sure not. After Saturday’s mistakes, he would often slap his thigh or look around while muttering or shaking his head.

Neither player hit all the right notes early on, perhaps due to their contrasting styles and the mix of Sabalenka’s superb offense against Gauff’s exemplary defense.

They traded the first breaks at 2-all, but Sabalenka took the next four games to take this set. During this stretch, there was an exciting point that had the crowd roaring before it was over. Gauff struggled to keep recovering Sabalenka’s shots over the net, including somehow deflecting a thunderbolt over the run, before a second, just out of reach, bounced off the floor and into the stands.

Sabalenka raised her left hand and wiggled her fingers, telling the crowd in the stands to give her some love.

But soon, Gauff was playing better, Sabalenka was more off target and love took only one of them, the sport’s new Grand Slam champion.


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