Frank Franklin II / AP
By David K. Li and Dennis Romero/NBC NEWS
Coco Gauff won the U.S. Open women’s final, becoming the latest Black American woman to leave a history-making mark on the most sacred grounds of U.S. tennis.
Gauff bested Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus on Saturday in three sets (2-6, 6-3, 6-2).
“I just pray that I have the strength to give it my all, and whatever happens happens,” Gauff told the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium after the match, explaining her prayers and her mental state. “I just knew if I didn’t give it my all, I had no shot at winning.”
The champ congratulated Sabalenka for rising to No. 1 in the world with her presence in the final.
The 19-year-old unusual mettle after finding herself down a set to a player who is technically the world’s best. Commentator Cliff Drysdale said it looked at that point like Sabalenka was “going to roll over her.”
It never happened.
The teenager held fast at the baseline and kept her serves mellow but accurate, and chased everything down. Her lie-in-wait strategy worked, as an inside-out forehand from Sabalenka in the second set sailed long and wide up the line and Gauff tied the match one set each.
The third and decisive set went by fast, and Gauff sealed it when Sabalenka came to the net down 2 games to 5, with her forehand volley ready, but with Gauff’s squeezing off a passing shot that screamed past and landed in.
“Coco lifted her game to a higher level than we’ve ever seen,” commentator Chris Evert said.
Afterward, she went to family members and coach Brad Gilbert for hugs, photos and congratulations.
Gauff’s upset win in Flushing Meadows, New York City, etches her name into the history books alongside other Black American women’s tennis icons like Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Althea Gibson and Sloane Stephens.
Gibson won the U.S. National Championship women’s singles titles in 1957 and 1958, a forerunner of the U.S. Open. Venus, the older Williams sister, won the U.S. Open in 2001 and 2002 while Serena took the championships of 1999, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Those six U.S. Open singles titles by Serena Williams are only matched by Evert’s half-dozen championships in the tournament’s modern era, 1975-78 and 1980 and 1982.
Coming into Saturday, Gauff, 19, of Florida, had won five singles titles but was still chasing a title in one of the world’s four major tournaments (the U.S., French and Australian Opens and Wimbledon).
She’s come close before as the French Open runner-up in 2022 and when she reached the quarterfinals in Flushing Meadows last year.
CORRECTION (Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023): A previous version of this article misstated the final score. Coco Gauff defeated Aryna Sabalenka in three sets, not 6-2.