Coco Gauff of the United States celebrates after defeating Aryna Sabalenka. AFP
Coco Gauff set aside a so-so start and surged to her first Grand Slam title at age 19, coming back to defeat Aryna Sabalenka 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the US Open final on Saturday 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 major tennis tournament since Serena Williams in 1999. If last year’s US Open was all about saying goodbye to Williams as she competed for the final time, this year’s two weeks in New York turned into a "Welcome to the big time!” for Gauff.
This is the sort of triumph that had - fairly or not - been expected of Gauff ever since she burst onto the scene at 15 by becoming the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history and making it to the fourth round in her Grand Slam debut in 2019.
She reached her initial major final at last year’s French Open, finishing as the runner-up, and now has earned the biggest trophy of her still-nascent career. Gauff earned a 12th consecutive victory and 18th in her past 19 matches dating to a first-round exit at the All England Club in July.
The No. 6-seeded Gauff did it Saturday by withstanding the power displayed by Sabalenka on nearly every swing of her racket, eventually getting accustomed to it and managing to get back shot after shot. Gauff broke to begin the third set on just one such point, tracking down every ball hit her way until eventually smacking a putaway volley that she punctuated with a fist pump and a scream of "Come on!”
Soon it was 4-0 in that set for Gauff. At 4-1, Sabalenka took a medical timeout while her left leg was massaged. Gauff stayed sharp during the break - it lasted a handful of minutes, not the 50 during a climate protest in the semifinals - by practicing some serves.
When they resumed, Sabalenka broke to get within 4-2. But Gauff broke right back, and soon was serving out the victory, then dropping onto her back on the court. She soon climbed into the stands to find her parents and others for hugs.
"You did it!” Gauff's mom told her, both in tears.
Their exits will allow Leolia Jeanjean and Laura Pigossi - two players who lost in qualifying — to move into the main draw at the year's first Grand Slam tournament, which begins Monday (Sunday night EST).
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