Aryna Sabalenka experienced a shocking start to her semifinal match against Madison Keys at the US Open. Losing the first set 6-0, Sabalenka looked defeated as she made her way to her chair, sweat dripping down her face. This was a far cry from her dominant performances throughout the tournament, where she hadn’t dropped a set or more than five games in a match.
Sabalenka, known for her fierce and aggressive style of play, lacked her usual intensity and focus during the first set. It was an unexpected sight considering her impressive form leading up to the match. She later admitted to feeling helpless against Keys’ brilliant performance, stating that she had zero control in the match.
However, in the second set, Sabalenka managed to break Keys’ serve in the third game and levelled the score to 5-5. With one game standing between her and elimination, Sabalenka raised her level of play and capitalized on Keys’ mistakes and nerves. She eventually forced a tiebreak and emerged as the winner.
Despite believing she had won the match at 7-3 in the tiebreak, Sabalenka quickly refocused and ultimately sealed her victory in the deciding set. It was a remarkable turnaround for Sabalenka, who fell to her knees before standing and clutching her head in disbelief. She created history by becoming just the third woman in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam semifinal match after being bageled in the opening set.
Sabalenka struggled to put into words what had just transpired on the court. She acknowledged that she had somehow managed to turn the match around when it seemed impossible. This marked a significant difference from her devastating semifinal loss at the 2022 US Open, where she won the opening set but ultimately fell to Iga Swiatek, who went on to win the tournament.
Since her exit in New York last September, Sabalenka has been on an incredible run. She started 2023 by winning the title in Adelaide and then claimed her first major championship in Melbourne. She followed up with a 1000-level title in Madrid and made it to the finals in Indian Wells and Stuttgart. Additionally, she became the first player since Serena Williams in 2016 to reach the semifinals in all four Grand Slam tournaments in a single season. Despite spending most of the year in the No. 2 spot, Sabalenka had dreamt of becoming the world’s top-ranked player, and her consistent performances had brought her close to achieving that goal.
Heading into the US Open, Sabalenka only needed to match or outperform Swiatek’s final result to claim the No. 1 ranking. When Swiatek lost in the fourth round, Sabalenka became the No. 1 player in waiting, with the official confirmation to come after the tournament. However, she remained focused on the tournament at hand and didn’t want to celebrate prematurely.
Despite her impressive achievements throughout the year, Sabalenka somewhat flew under the radar at the US Open. Her early matches were played in Louis Armstrong Stadium rather than the more prominent Arthur Ashe Stadium, and other players and storylines overshadowed her performances. However, Sabalenka’s spectacular comeback in the semifinals has put her on the biggest stage once again. She will face American teenage sensation Coco Gauff in her second Grand Slam final, guaranteeing a match under the brightest lights.
In their previous encounters, Sabalenka and Gauff have faced each other five times, with Gauff winning three of those meetings. However, Sabalenka emerged victorious in their most recent match in Indian Wells, leading her to dismiss its significance in their upcoming final. With Gauff’s impressive 17-1 win streak on hardcourts this summer, Sabalenka knows she is in for a tough challenge. Regardless, Sabalenka is determined to focus on herself and be prepared for a fierce battle until the last point.
Overall, Sabalenka’s journey at the US Open has been nothing short of remarkable. From a demoralizing first-set loss to a captivating comeback, she has shown resilience and determination. As she prepares for the final, Sabalenka aims to cement her status as the world’s top-ranked player and add another major title to her already impressive 2023 season.