What the 19-year-old from Florida was reading, she would say later, were various comments, negative ones, “saying I wasn’t going to win today; that just put the fire in me.”
As a pro athlete from a young age, as someone of whom greatness has been expected by some and doubted by others, Gauff has always taken it all in and kept moving forward, trying to learn from each setback. And now, at a tournament she used to visit as a kid to see her idols, Serena and Venus Williams, Gauff is a Grand Slam champion herself and a certified star.
Setting aside a so-so start Saturday, Gauff surged to a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over the soon-to-be-No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka in the final at Arthur Ashe Stadium, delighting a raucous crowd that backed her from start to finish.
When Gauff walked into her news conference — phone in hand, of course — she noticed that a large screen on the back wall was rotating pictures of her from the match. So she tucked her new silver trophy under one arm and used the other hand to snap a selfie with those photos in the background.
“Right now I’m just feeling happiness and a very, very small bit of relief,” she explained. “Because honestly, at this point, I was doing it for myself and not for other people.”
First American Teenager Since Williams to Win US Open
Gauff, who is from Florida, is the first American teenager to win the country’s major tennis tournament since Serena Williams in 1999.
If last year’s U.S. Open was all about saying goodbye to Williams as she competed for the final time, this year’s two weeks in New York turned into a “Welcome to the big time!” moment for Gauff. Famous people were coming to watch her play, including former President Barack Obama, who was among those sending congratulatory wishes on Saturday.
Also, Gauff and her parents received a congratulatory phone call from President Joe Biden, who was in New Delhi for the Group of 20 summit.
Gauff burst onto the scene at 15 by becoming the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history and making it to the fourth round in her Grand Slam debut in 2019. She reached her initial major final at last year’s French Open, finishing as the runner-up to Iga Swiatek, a loss that stung.
“I watched Iga lift up that trophy, and I watched her the whole time,” Gauff recalled. “I said, ‘I’m not going to take my eyes off her, because I want to feel what that felt like for her.’”
Another down moment came this July at the All England Club, where she exited in the first round. Since then, she has won 18 of 19 matches, and now 12 in a row, while working with a new coaching pair of Brad Gilbert and Pere Riba.
The No. 6-seeded Gauff did it Saturday by withstanding the power displayed by Sabalenka on nearly every swing of her racket, eventually getting accustomed to it and managing to get back shot after shot. Gauff broke to begin the third set on one such point, tracking down every ball hit her way until eventually smacking a putaway volley that she punctuated with a fist pump and a scream of “Come on!”
Soon it was 4-0 in that set for Gauff. Didn’t take long for her to close it out, then drop to her back on the court, before climbing into the stands to find her parents.
“You did it!” Gauff’s mom told her, both in tears.
$3 Million to the Women’s Winner
In addition to her trophy, Gauff was handed an envelope with the champion’s $3 million paycheck, the same amount that Novak Djokovic got for winning Sunday’s men’s final. This is the 50th anniversary of when the 1973 U.S. Open became the first major sports event to pay women and men equal prize money; the person who led that effort, Hall of Fame player and rights advocate Billie Jean King, was on hand Saturday.
“Thank you, Billie,” Gauff said, “for fighting for this.”
Sabalenka came in 23-2 at majors in 2023, including a title at the Australian Open. The 25-year-old from Belarus already was assured of rising from No. 2 to No. 1 in the rankings next week (Gauff will be No. 3 in singles, No. 1 in doubles).
That ranking milestone is “why I’m not super depressed right now,” Sabalenka said, then joked: “I’m definitely going to be. I’m definitely going for a drink tonight — if I’m allowed to say that.”
She was reduced to the role of foil by the fans in 23,000-capacity arena. Setting the tone, Gauff’s pre-match TV interview, shown in the arena, was drowned out by the sound of applause and yells reverberating off the closed retractable roof.
Winners by Gauff were celebrated as if the match were over. So were Sabalenka’s miscues. When Sabalenka heard cheers during the post-match ceremony, she joked: “You guys could have supported (me) like this during the match.”
By the end, she had 46 unforced errors, Gauff 19. Here’s another way to view it: Gauff only needed 13 winners to accumulate 83 points.
“Sometimes, I can get emotional,” Sabalenka said. “Today on the court, I was overthinking and I was missing … balls I shouldn’t be missing.”
When Sabalenka has everything calibrated just right, it’s difficult for any foe to handle it — even someone as speedy, smart and instinctive as Gauff, whose get-to-every-ball court coverage kept points alive.
Sabalenka credited Gauff’s superb defense — “definitely, she was moving just unbelievable” and “I always had to play like an extra ball” — but also thought many mistakes were “more about me than her. I lost this match.”
24th Grand Slam Title for Djokovic
Halfway through a second set that lasted 1 hour, 44 minutes, a test of tenacity as much as talent amid a U.S. Open final as exhausting as it was exhilarating, Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev engaged each other in a 32-stroke point.
It was among many such elongated exchanges between two men whose styles are nearly mirror images, and Djokovic capitulated by netting a backhand. He fell to his back and stayed down, chest heaving. The crowd roared. Djokovic sat up but remained on the ground for a bit. The crowd roared some more, appreciating the effort, saluting the entertainment.
Using every ounce of his energy and some serve-and-volley guile — an old man with new tricks — Djokovic emerged for a 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory over Medvedev at Flushing Meadows to claim a historic 24th Grand Slam title on Sunday night in a match more closely contested than the straight-set score indicated.
“I never imagined that I would be here standing with you talking about 24 Slams. I never thought that would be the reality,” said Djokovic, a 36-year-old from Serbia and the tournament’s oldest male champion in the Open era, which dates to 1968. “But the last couple of years, I felt I have a chance, I have a shot for history, and why not grab it if it’s presented?”
He moved one major singles title ahead of Serena Williams and is the first player to win 24 in the Open era. Margaret Court also collected a total of 24, but 13 of those came before professionals were admitted to the Slam events.