US Open 2023: Coco Gauff wins 1st Grand Slam title with wild comeback vs. Aryna Sabalenka

Coco Gauff, of the United States, reacts during a match against Aryna Sabalenka, of Belarus, during the women's singles final of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Coco Gauff has her first Grand Slam title. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Coco Gauff has been earmarked as the future of women's tennis since she was 15 years old. That future arrived at the US Open on Saturday, in the form of her first Grand Slam championship.

The 19-year-old American outlasted No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, the new top-ranked player in the WTA, in a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 thriller in the US Open final at Arthur Ashe Stadium. She becomes the 11th teenager to ever win a Grand Slam singles title, and the question now becomes how many more are in front of her.

After shaking hands with Sabalenka and taking a moment to feel the love, Gauff's first move was to embrace her family in the stands:

"Today was the first time I've ever seen my dad cry," Gauff said to ESPN after the match. "He doesn't want me to tell y'all that, but he got caught in 4K. He thinks he's so hard, but you know he's not ... My dad took me to this tournament [years ago], sitting right there watching Venus and Serena [Williams] compete, so it's really incredible to be on this stage."

Saturday was Gauff's third win of the tournament after losing the first set. Per ESPN Stats & Info, the only other person to win the US Open in that fashion was Gauff's idol, Serena Williams, who did it at 17 years old in 1999.

Coco Gauff overcomes a powerful start from Aryna Sabalenka

It took an epic comeback against Madison Keys for Sabalenka to reach the final as well, but there was no slow start by the Belarusian this time. Sabalenka opened the match by breaking Gauff in front of a highly partial New York crowd looking for the first American US Open champion since Sloane Stephens in 2017.

Gauff broke Sabalenka back three games later, but that was the last game she'd win in the first set. Sabalenka, one of the hardest hitters on tour, showed a form so overpowering that even Gauff's speed couldn't neutralize her.

That was particularly clear in a wild point as Sabalenka tried to consolidate a break. Gauff covered every area of the court, but that gave Sabalenka the opportunity to hit her harder and harder:

Gauff got the momentum change the crowd was looking for early in the second set, breaking Sabalenka to go up 3-1 and holding serve from there to take the second set. Gauff got steadily more aggressive rather than let Sabalenka pound away at the ball in extended rallies, and started winning some truly wild points:

Gauff kept up the pressure in the third set, breaking Sabalenka twice to take a commanding lead. She committed zero unforced errors in the first four games of the set, while Sabalenka committed nine as her composure started fading.

By the end of the match, Gauff was showing the kind of form that seemed impossible to beat. Her speed alone made her a nightmare for opponents to put away, but when combined with the shot-making she showed against Sabalenka, it becomes clear why so much has been expected from her over the past four years.

All of those parts finally came together in New York this year. As long as Gauff can keep them together, there's no limit to what can be expected from her over the next decade-plus.

Coco Gauff goes from 15-year-old breakout star to 19-year-old champion

The vast majority of tennis fans first heard the name Coco Gauff in 2019, when she upset one of her idols Venus Williams in the first round of Wimbledon. Then the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history, Gauff became the youngest player to win a match in the singles draw at Wimbledon since Jennifer Capriati in 1991.

Gauff compounded the hype by reaching the fourth round of that tournament, then the third round at the 2019 US Open and the fourth round of the 2020 Australian Open. Her next breakthrough came later, reaching quarterfinals in events like the French Open, the Canadian Open and the Italian Open in 2021, then her first Grand Slam final at the French Open in 2022.

It seems so natural now that Gauff has hoisted her trophy, but the journey between tennis prodigy and tennis star has never been an easy one. There is no telling how a player will develop as they go through their teenage years, what weaknesses opponents will find, how their body will hold up in elite competition. A lot more goes into winning a Grand Slam title than surviving seven straight matches, and Gauff had to go through all of that.

After four years of waiting, Gauff won her first WTA 1000 event at the Cincinnati Open last month and didn't stop there.

"Honestly, thank you to the people who didn't believe in me," Gauff said. "A month ago, I won a 500 and people said I would stop at that. Two weeks ago, I won a 1000 title and people said that was the biggest it was going to get. Three weeks later, I'm here with this trophy right now."

"Those who thought they were putting water on my fire, you were really adding gas to it."