NEW YORK — Coco Gauff won her first major title on Saturday at the US Open with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Aryna Sabalenka in front of an adoring crowd under the roof on a stormy day at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
After the match, the 19-year-old American fell to the ground and lay on her back on the court before sobbing in celebration. After hugging Sabalenka, Gauff ran up the stairs to tearfully hug her parents and then the rest of her team.
Moments later, Gauff told the star-studded crowd, which included Kevin Durant, Diane Keaton, Nicole Kidman, Spike Lee, Mindy Kaling and 2006 champion Maria Sharapova, that she still hadn’t fully processed the victory.
“Oh my goodness, it means so much to me,” Gauff told ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez. “I feel like I’m a little bit in shock in this moment. That  French Open loss was a heartbreak for me. But I realized God put you through tribulations and trials and that makes this moment even sweeter than I could have imagined.”
After the match, several high-profile celebrities, including former President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and President Joe Biden, sent her congratulatory messages over social media.
Gauff is the youngest American to win the US Open since Serena Williams in 1999 and the first American player to win a major title since Sofia Kenin at the Australian Open in 2020. Gauff also became the first woman to win the title in New York after dropping the first set in three matches during her title run since Williams, also in 1999.
When speaking to the media after the match, Gauff said it was an honor to have her name listed on the same trophy as Williams and her sister Venus, who won the title a combined eight times.
“I mean, they’re the reason why I have this trophy today, to be honest,” Gauff said. “They have allowed me to believe in this dream. Growing up, there weren’t too many Black tennis players dominating the sport. It was literally, at that time when I was younger, it was just them that I can remember.
“Obviously more came because of their legacy, so it made the dream more believable. But all the things that they had to go through, they made it easier for someone like me to do this.”
Gauff, the tournament’s No. 6 seed, was broken in the first game of the match and struggled to find any rhythm in the nervy 40-minute opening set. Since the first set winner had won 27 of the previous 28 US Open women’s finals, history was not on her side. But she took control in the second set, breaking Sabalenka in the fourth game and recording an 81% win percentage on first serve. Her confidence grew with every point, and her “Come on!” screams and fist pumps became increasingly more animated.
In the deciding set, it was all Gauff. She jumped to a 4-0 lead and withheld Sabalenka’s last-ditch efforts and a medical timeout at 4-1. After two hours and six minutes, Gauff was the US Open champion.
“You played unbelievable,” Sabalenka said to Gauff during the on-court trophy ceremony. “Congrats to you and your team, you guys deserve this title. Many more to come, I’m pretty sure.”
Despite still being a teenager, Gauff has been one of the sport’s most recognizable stars since she burst onto the scene at Wimbledon in 2019 and reached the fourth round as a 15-year-old qualifier. Since then, she’s won five WTA titles and reached the final at the 2022 French Open.
With several high-profile sponsorship deals and a growing presence on social media, Gauff has remained under the spotlight and the expectations for her career have continued to increase. On Saturday, Gauff said the pressure has been overwhelming at times, and she felt she was expected to immediately win a major title after her run to the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2019.
“It’s been difficult,” she said. “I mean, it’s been a long journey to this point. I wasn’t a fully developed player, and I still think I have a lot of development to go. At that moment, I think people were putting a lot of pressure on me to win. I felt that at 15 I had to win a Slam at 15.
“I think that was, you know, not the mistake, because everything led to this moment so there were no mistakes, but that was a little bit of the pressure that I was feeling. Now I just realize that I just need to go out there and try my best.”
After losing in the first round at Wimbledon in July, Gauff brought in a new team, including coach Pere Riba and consultant Brad Gilbert. Since then, she’s won the titles in Washington D.C., and Cincinnati and is 18-1 during the current hard-court swing. She defeated two Grand Slam champions en route to the final, as well as 2023 French Open runner-up Karolina Muchova in the semifinals.
Gauff told the crowd she had been motivated by those who had doubted her.
“I want to say honestly thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me,” Gauff said. “A month ago, I won a 500 title and people said, I would stop at that. Two weeks ago, I won a 1000 title and people were saying that was the biggest it was going to get. So three weeks later, I’m here with this trophy right now.
“I’ve tried my best to carry this with grace and I’ve been doing my best. So honestly, to those who thought they were putting water on my fire, you were really adding gas to it. And now I’m really burning so bright right now.”
Gauff later told reporters she had been reading comments online from those who didn’t think she was going to win right up until the match.
In addition to earning $3 million for the victory — something she thanked Billie Jean King for fighting for as she received it — Gauff will improve to a career-high ranking of No. 3 on Monday. Sabalenka, the reigning Australian Open champion, will take over the No. 1 ranking for the first time despite the loss.
Gauff will also return to the top spot in the doubles ranking, alongside partner Jessica Pegula. The pair reached the quarterfinals at the US Open.
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