Sabalenka Rallies Her Way Into US Open Final

Aryna Sabalenka in action at the US Open.

A perfectly imperfect performance from Aryna Sabalenka on Thursday night has put her on the cusp of her second career Grand Slam title.

Sabalenka bounced back from being bageled in the first set and refocused after incorrectly believing she had secured victory with her seventh point of the third set tiebreak (deciding tiebreaks at majors now go to 10 points), topping Madison Keys 0-6, 7-6(1), 7-6(10-5). Now, the Belarusian has an opportunity to reach No. 1 in the world and win the year’s final Slam.

The No. 1 ranking is already taken care of. Sabalenka has guaranteed herself of the top ranking thanks to her US Open performance, coupled with Iga Swiatek’s fourth round loss. Winning her second major, however, will require some more work.

What’s next?

On Saturday, Sabalenka faces No. 6 seed and tournament favorite Coco Gauff in the women’s final. While Gauff has had a bumpier path than her upcoming foe (the American has dropped three sets, to Sabalenka’s one), she has hit her stride of late, surrendering just two games to a tired Jelena Ostapenko in the quarter-finals and securing a decisive 6-4, 7-5 win over Karolina Muchova in Thursday’s semis.

Conversely, Sabalenka blitzed her way to the final four, allowing no more than five total games in any of her first five matches. Against Keys, however, the 25-year-old saw some of her old serve issues resurface, holding a mere 52% first serve percentage in the first set while winning just 36% of her points on that first serve.

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By outlasting Keys, Sabalenka managed to break through and reach her first US Open final after falling in the semifinals in each of the past two years. A win on Saturday would give her a second Slam this year (she won the Australian Open) and a pretty strong resume for WTA Tour Player of the Year, with four titles, including two major championships, along with a pair of Slam semifinals and, of course, the world No. 1 ranking.

With plenty of momentum and the crowd firmly in her corner, Gauff poses the biggest challenge to date for Sabalenka. But these two weeks in New York have already demonstrated her dominant game and resilience, so there’s reason to believe that Saturday could mark the culmination of a tremendous tournament and 2023 season.

Main Photo Credit: Jerry Lai – USA TODAY Sports


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