Preview (via Reuters)
American teenager Coco Gauff can expect a capacity crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium to be in her corner as she fights formidable second seed Aryna Sabalenka for the U.S. Open crown on Saturday.
Sabalenka is already assured the number one spot in the new rankings after the tournament but does not expect an easy road to a second Grand Slam title this year, with vocal home fans hungry to see sixth seed Gauff collect her maiden major title.
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“Of course I would prefer to have someone else or (the) crowd would be a little bit probably like the same to both players,” Sabalenka said with a smile.
“I’m still hoping that probably some of them will be supporting me. Will be just a little bit. Just sometimes, please. Please.”
The Belarusian won the Australian Open to kick off a superb 2023, beat Gauff en route to the Indian Wells final and defeated Iga Swiatek in the Madrid title match.
The Roland Garros and Wimbledon semifinalist ended Swiatek’s long reign as world number one thanks to a terrific New York campaign, where she did not drop a set until her late-night semifinal battle against American Madison Keys.
2023 Indian Wells, Quarterfinals: Sabalenka won 6-4, 6-0
2022 Toronto, Third Round: Gauff won 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(4)
2021 Rome, Third Round: Gauff won 7-5, 6-3
2020 Ostrava, Second Round: Sabalenka won 1-6, 7-5, 7-6(2)
2020 Lexington, Second Round: Gauff won 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-4
Sabalenka recovered from a demoralising 6-0 first set loss to beat the 2017 finalist Keys in a fightback for the ages after scarcely facing much of a challenge earlier in the tournament.
Relying on her booming forehand and powerful serve - she has sent over 32 aces in the tournament so far - Sabalenka overwhelmed 13th seed Daria Kasatkina in the fourth round and left China’s Zheng Qinwen with no answers in the quarter-final.
“Going into this final, I think I just have to focus on myself and prepare myself for another fight. You have to fight for it.”,” said Sabalenka, who reached the semi-finals in the previous two editions of the tournament.
Gauff will also bring plenty of fight to the court and can launch herself from a domestic fan-favourite to outright American tennis royalty with a win in New York.
She has produced the best tennis of her career this season, winning in Washington before downing Poland’s Swiatek in a breakthrough victory en route to her biggest title in Cincinnati last month.
The terrific run surprised even the 19-year-old, who had all but given up on her season after she crashed out in the first round at Wimbledon.
“When I had that at Wimbledon I was really sort of thinking for off-season and preparing for next year,” she told reporters.
“Even after D.C., didn’t think this would happen. Even after Cincy, didn’t think this would happen. I’m really proud of myself ... there is still a long ways to go.”
Gauff brought the stars out to Flushing Meadows and had former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, in the stands when she opened her campaign on Ashe in a surprisingly tough test from German qualifier Laura Siegemund.
If the teenager had been starstruck against comeback queen Caroline Wozniacki, who she counted as a childhood inspiration, Gauff scarcely showed it as she battled past the former Australian Open winner in the fourth round.
The 2022 Roland Garros runner-up was left with her ears ringing from screaming U.S. fans after beating 10th seed Karolina Muchova to reach the final of the tournament she grew up watching.
“I have been focusing more on myself and my expectations of myself,” said Gauff, who vowed to hold her head high regardless of the outcome on Saturday. “I really believe that now I have the maturity and ability to do it.”
Road to final for Gauff
Semifinal: 6-4, 7-5 against Karolina Muchova (Czech Republic)
Quarterfinal: 6-0, 6-2 against Jelena Ostapenko (Latvia)
Round of 16: 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 against Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)
Round of 32: 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 against Elise Mertens (Belgium)
Round of 64: 6-3, 6-4 against Mirra Andreeva (Russia)
Round of 128: 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 against Laura Siegemund (Germany)
Road to final for Sabalenka
Semifinal: 0-6, 7-6(1), 7-6(5) against Madison Keys (USA)
Quarterfinal: 6-1, 6-4 against Qinwen Zheng (China)
Round of 16: 6-1, 6-3 against Daria Kasatkina (Russia)
Round of 32: 6-1, 6-1 against Clara Burel (France)
Round of 64: 6-3, 6-2 against Jodie Burrage (Great Britain)
Round of 128: 6-3, 6-2 against Maryna Zanevska (Belgium)
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