Tennis phenom Coco Gauff has won her first Grand Slam title, defeating Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka at the U.S. Open in New York on Saturday.
Gauff won in three sets, rebounding from losing the first to winning the final two 6-3 and 6-2. The victory makes her the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA)’s No.3-ranked player, giving her the sixth tournament title of her career and fourth this year.
“When I lost the first set, I still felt like I was into the match,” she said during a press conference after the match. “I said I’m going to give it my all, and whatever happens, happens.”
What happened was the culmination of years of hard work and increasingly high expectations finally paying off.
Gauff burst onto the pro tennis scene as a 15-year-old, reaching the top 16 at Wimbledon in 2019 before losing to eventual champion Simona Halep in straight sets.
Since then, many have expected Gauff to become a Grand Slam champion and do so quickly.
“It’s been difficult,” she admitted. “It’s been a long journey to this point. I wasn’t a fully developed player, and I still think I have a lot of development to go. At that moment, I think people put a lot of pressure on me to win, and I felt, at 15, that I had to win a Slam at 15. That was a little bit of the pressure I was feeling, and now, I just realize that I just need to go out there and try my best.”
She finally reached the final match of a Grand Slam at the 2022 French Open but lost to Iga Swiatek. While the loss was challenging, Gauff says it helped her be better prepared on Saturday.
“I thought about it, but I told myself to get it out of my head because that’s what I did at [the] French [Open]. I was envisioning what would happen if I would win, and I think I wanted it too much.”
Now, she finally has the championship she’s been waiting for.
At 19 years old, she becomes the first American teenager to win the tournament since Serena Williams won the event in 1999 and 2000 and the first American to win the U.S. Open since Sloane Stephens in 2017.
“They’re the reason why I have this trophy today, to be honest,” Gauff divulged. “They’ve allowed me to believe in this dream. Growing up, there wasn’t that many Black tennis players dominating the sport. When I was younger, it was just them that I can remember, and obviously more came because of their legacy, so it made the dream more believable.”
“All the things they had to go through made it easier for someone like me to do this…It’s crazy, and it’s an honor to be in that lineup with them.”