Aryna Sabalenka pulled off an incredible comeback from the verge of defeat, to upset the 17th-seeded American Madison Keys in a third-set tie-break and advance to the US Open final where she will face hometown favorite Coco Gauff.
Keys had the chance to serve for the victory in the second set, but Sabalenka, who is set to become the world’s number one player, made an incredible comeback against the runner-up from last year. With a final score of 0-6, 7-6 (7/1), and 7-6 (10/5), Sabalenka successfully claimed the match and qualified for her second Grand Slam final.
“She played incredible tennis, it was just another level. Somehow, I don’t know how I turned around this match,” said Sabalenka, the second seed.
“It really means a lot to be in the final of the US Open for the first time.”
Sabalenka experienced an emotional rollercoaster and at times argued vehemently with her coaching staff, before being able to sheepishly laugh off celebrating too soon in the crucial tie-break.
“I thought that we play tie-break up to till seven,” she said. “I was just all over the place.”
On Saturday, the Australian Open winner will compete against the 19-year-old Gauff for a second Grand Slam championship. Despite the fact that the American leads 3-2, this will be their first encounter at a major.
“She’s an unbelievable player,” said Sabalenka. “The crowd will be supporting her a lot. I will do everything I can. I’ll be fighting for every point and I will do my best.”
Sabalenka handed Keys a break in the first game with a double fault and her troubles were compounded when she again dropped serve after leading 40-0 two games later.
Keys shook off two break chances before a wayward Sabalenka faltered on serve for a third time, allowing her opponent to wrap up the set with ease.
Sabalenka sarcastically raised her arms in celebration as she held to finally get on the board to start the second set.
Sabalenka received a code penalty after slamming a courtside barrier and tossing her racket in the direction of her coach. Keys continued to hammer wins with her strong forehand and broke again for a 2-1 lead.
The Belarusian briefly got back on serve before Keys struck once more, further infuriating an irate Sabalenka who had stormed into the semi-finals without losing a single set.
Sabalenka broke Keys to stay in the tournament, winning 12 points in a row to move 6-5 ahead, but she couldn’t convert two set points as the American steadied herself to force a tie-break.
However Sabalenka won that easily to send the match to a deciding set, before which Keys took a medical timeout to receive treatment to her upper left leg.
Keys withstood an early break point and the first five games went on serve before a loose game from Sabalenka handed Keys the initiative at 4-2.
Sabalenka fought back and outmatched Keys to recover the break immediately, surviving two further break points to tie the game at 4-4.
The Belarusian assumed control of the tie-break, taking the lead early, and eventually defeating Keys for the second time in as many Grand Slams.