Aryna Sabalenka staged a Grand Slam fightback for the ages to snuff out home crowd hopes of an all-American final. The second seed overcame a disastrous opening set to beat 17th seed Madison Keys 0-6 7-6(1) 7-6(5) on Thursday. The Belarusian will now try to heap even more disappointment on U.S. tennis fans in Saturday’s final when she faces sixth seed Coco Gauff. Gauff defeated Karolina Muchova 6-4 7-5 in a match with a 50-minute delay early due to a climate protest in the stands.
The teenager will make her first appearance in a U.S. Open final as she becomes the youngest player since Serena Williams to reach the decider at Flushing Meadows. Gauff had a slow start to the match as the American took three games to win her first serve, but she quickly found her groove. The teenager dominated the remainder of the first set as she broke Muchova three times to move ahead 5-1.
But the American hit a rough patch as she lost two straight games, and the momentum began to shift. Sabalenka responded by activating beast mode and blasted her way to three successive breaks to regain control of the match. She took the second set to a tiebreak, dominating 7-1, sending the contest to a decisive third set that nobody saw coming.
When she moved out in front 7-3, Keys dropped her racket and put her hands to her face, covering a vast smile that suggested she’d just won the match. But tiebreaks in decisive sets go to 10 points, and Sabalenka quickly realized she still had to work for it.
In a pulsating match, the pair went point-for-point until Keys hit a return long to give Sabalenka a match point in the 10th game. The Belarusian seized her opportunity with a ruthless forehand to break the American and seal the match.
Sabalenka became just the third woman in Open Era history to win a significant semifinal after losing the first set. The other two to do so were Stefanie Graf at Roland Garros in 1992 and Ana Ivanovic in 2008.
Sabalenka will now look to join the elite players who have won all four Grand Slams this season. She has a chance to do so again at the Australian Open next month and can also take the top spot in the rankings if she wins in New York.
Earlier in the day, fifth-seeded Serb Aleksandra Kruni took a step closer to winning her first Grand Slam title by beating Czech ninth-seed Lucie Safarova 6-3 6-1. The eighth-ranked Serb easily won the opening set but had to wait until the fifth game of the second set before securing victory. She won the third set to complete her victory in two hours and 32 minutes. The result means she will be the only unseeded female winner of the tournament if she can defend her title.