IN an incredible turnaround, Belarusian second seed and incoming world number one Aryna Sabalenka fought back from a first set bagel to defeat American Madison Keys in a third set super tiebreak and stamp her ticket into the US Open final. The Australian Open winner looked in serious trouble after failing to win a game in the opening set, but worked her way back into the contest to clinch a nail-biting 0-6 7-6 7-6 victory.
Sabalenka will assume top spot in the world rankings for the first time in her career on Monday, following current holder Iga Swiatek loss at Flushing Meadows. The Belarusian showed just how much she has developed over the last few years, fighting her way back to win rather than throwing in the towel against the 2017 US Open finalist.
It was a bizarre semi-final to say the least, with the second seed coming in without dropping a set and having only lost 21 games across 10 sets played. However the in-form Keys – who last reached a semi-final at the US Open five years ago – had other ideas, racing out to a 6-0 lead. Then, the tide turned and Sabalenka worked back into the contest, though was still in strife in the second set as Keys served for victory at 6-0 5-4.
The new Sabalenka had different ideas to the old one, winning 18 of the next 23 points to claim the second set in a tiebreaker, and then get on the front foot in the third set. It went the full distance with both power hitters going toe-for-toe across two hours and 32 minutes.
“It was crazy. I was all over the place,” Sabalenka said post-match. “I was just, like, ‘What can I do?’ She’s playing unbelievable, just crushing everything. I’m not able to do anything, like, I had zero control in the match.
“I was just, like, I was just keep telling myself, I mean, okay, there is going to be this like this? Somebody going to just play their best tennis? You just have to keep trying, keep staying there, and keep pushing it. Maybe you’ll be able to turn around this game.
“Lucky me, somehow magically, I don’t know how I was able to turn around this game.”
Sabalenka finished the match with 12 aces and 35 winners, for only four double faults and 39 unforced errors. Keys had the five aces and three double faults, as well as 32 winners and 35 unforced errors after a dominant 12-winner, three-unforced error first set.
The soon-to-be world number one stopped an all-American final from taking place, and only has youngster Coco Gauff standing between her and the title. The 19-year-old sixth seed defeated Czech Karolina Muchova 6-4 7-5 in two hours and three minutes. Only serving the one ace, Gauff hit 11 less unforced errors (25-36) despite only hitting the 13 winners. Her more consistent serve proved to be crucial, winning 61 and 67 per cent of her first and second serve points off a 55 per cent clip.