As the old saying goes, it’s not how you start, but how you finish. Tennis phenom Cori “Coco” Gauff embodied this adage by pulling off a thrilling and gutsy comeback victory against Aryna Sabalenka 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.
This is Gauff’s first U.S. Open win and Grand Slam title. At 19, she becomes the youngest American Grand Slam Champion since Serena Williams in 1999, and the first American to win the U.S. Women’s Singles Championship since Sloane Stephens in 2017.
Seemingly overwhelmed by the Belarusian power-hitter in the first set, Gauff fought her way back by relentlessly chasing down Sabalenka’s shots and matching her point for point. As former tennis great and U.S. Open commentator Chris Evert noted, Sabalenka is accustomed to dominating her opponents in the first couple of points but is prone to unforced errors during longer rallies.
Gauff hung in there, building momentum in the second set with the help of an adoring crowd that included filmmaker Spike Lee, basketball star Kevin Durant, actors Nicole Kidman and Leon Robinson, and a host of others. With poise and determination, Gauff began to go on the offense, hitting winners of her own.
By the third set, she was fully in her stride, and with a backhand winner down the line to seal the deal, she fell on the court and cried as the roaring crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium stood to its feet.
An emotional Gauff walked into the stands and found her dad and former coach Corey Gauff, and the two engaged in a tearful embrace. “Today was the first time I ever saw my dad cry,” Gauff told the crowd later during the trophy ceremony. She recounted how her dad always believed in her and credited him as the reason for her winning the match.
Gauff was awarded $3 million for her win, which was presented to her by tennis icon Billie Jean King. This year, the U.S. Open celebrated the 50th anniversary of equal prize money for men and women that King fought for and won in 1973. “Thank you, Billie, for fighting,” a radiant Gauff said as the crowd laughed.
With her U.S. Open win, Gauff will now become the number-three-ranked player in the world, serving notice that her time has just begun.
“Honestly, thank you to the people that didn’t believe in me,” Gauff told the crowd. “Those who thought you were putting water on my fire, you were really putting gas on it, and I’m burning so bright right now.”