The U.S. Open women’s singles final is set: Coco Gauff, the 19-year-old American, will play Aryna Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed from Belarus.
The championship match, which is scheduled for Saturday at 4 p.m. Eastern, will be Gauff’s first appearance in a U.S. Open final, making her the first American teenager to reach the final in New York since Serena Williams in 2001. Gauff has already played in a Grand Slam final in 2022, when she lost the French Open to Iga Swiatek.
Sabalenka, 25, will also be playing in a U.S. Open final for the first time after reaching the semifinals of the tournament in 2021 and 2022. Sabalenka has performed well at Grand Slams this year. She won the Australian Open in January for her first Grand Slam title, and she reached the semifinals of the French Open and Wimbledon.
Here’s what to know about the match.
Their roads to the final.
Before the semifinals, Sabalenka had sailed through the tournament, winning her first five matches without dropping a set. That streak ended in the semifinal on Thursday against Madison Keys, who took the first set from Sabalenka 6-0 in a swift 30 minutes. But Sabalenka fought back, winning the next two sets on tiebreakers.
Gauff’s matches have not been as straightforward. She played a full three sets in the first round against Laura Siegemund, in the third round against Elise Mertens and in the fourth round against Caroline Wozniacki.
But since then, Gauff has had back-to-back straight sets wins. In the quarterfinals against Jelena Ostapenko she won 6-0, 6-2, in just over an hour. In the semifinals, Gauff beat Karolina Muchova 6-4, 7-5.
Gauff leads the head-to-head.
Sabalenka and Gauff have played against each other five times, and Gauff has won three of those matches. The final will be the first time the two have played each other at a Grand Slam tournament.
Sabalenka won their most recent match in straight sets in the quarterfinals of Indian Wells earlier this year. After her match on Thursday, Sabalenka said that she hadn’t thought about that win because Gauff had improved since then.
Gauff arrived at the U.S. Open this year after winning titles in Washington, D.C., and at the Western & Southern Open in Ohio.
“It’s a different player,” Sabalenka said. “Going into this final, I think I just have to focus on myself and prepare myself for another fight. No matter what, just keep fighting and keep playing my best and do my best.”
There’s a spotlight on Gauff.
Since Gauff turned pro at 14, she has been under a near-constant spotlight and has often been described as an heir apparent to Serena Williams. Gauff affirmed those descriptions for many when she reached her first Grand Slam singles final last year at the French Open at just 18 years old.
Now, as the last American woman standing in the tournament, the focus is on Gauff yet again. Gauff said after her match on Thursday that she had been avoiding social media to block out the expectations people have for her.
“I have just been really focusing on myself,” she said. “I really believe that now I have the maturity and ability to do it. Regardless of what happens on Saturday, I’m really proud of how I have been handling the last few weeks.”
Still, Gauff is seeking her first Grand Slam tournament title, and after winning on Thursday, she said on court that the “job’s not done yet,” a reference to the basketball star Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in 2020.
“That’s the mentality that I have,” Gauff said. “I’m trying to enjoy the moment, but also knowing I still have more work to do. Yes, the final is an incredible achievement, but it’s something that I’m not satisfied with yet.”
Don’t count out Sabalenka.
After losing the first set of her semifinal match on Thursday without winning a single game, Sabalenka found herself down 4-2 in the second set against Keys. But Sabalenka willed her way back, forcing a tiebreaker in the second set, and then again in the third set.
“I’m really proud that I was able to turn around this match,” Sabalenka said.
Thursday night was not the first time Sabalenka had pulled off such a comeback. At last year’s tournament, Sabalenka was down — 2-6, 1-5 — in a second-round match against Kaia Kanepi. The match had been Kanepi’s to lose until Sabalenka fought back to win the second set and then the third.
Sabalenka said the best way to practice comebacks is in tournaments, but even in practice, she will visualize being down 4-1 in a set.
A world No. 1 spot awaits.
Even if Sabalenka were to lose the final on Saturday, she would become the new women’s world No. 1 on Monday when the WTA rankings are updated. Sabalenka is guaranteed the top spot after Swiatek, who reigned as the No. 1 player for 75 weeks, was eliminated from the U.S. Open in the fourth round.
After her fourth-round match against Daria Kasatkina on Monday, Sabalenka said she wasn’t thinking about the No. 1 spot yet.
“I don’t want to celebrate anything before the end of the U.S. Open,” she said. “I just want to focus on this tournament more than on world No. 1.”