G’day from New York!
Defense defeated offense. Speed of foot defeated speed of racket. Coco Gauff defeated Aryna Sabalenka.
Gauff defeated Sabalenka 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 in a remarkable display of courage, determination, positive match rituals, defensive prowess, and a single-minded between-point routine that never changed, no matter if she won or lost the point.
Everything looked exactly the same until she fell to the court, instantly sobbing after winning match point.
Like so many three-set matches, the most important time was the first game of the second set. That’s where Gauff won the match. She snatched victory from the jaws of defeat as she was standing on the abyss of facing multiple break points in the opening game of the second set after getting outplayed in the first set.
In Set 1, Gauff’s groundstrokes were not yet calibrated to handle the heat Sabalenka was throwing at her. Gauff was late. She was rushed. She was committing too many errors. She had not yet masterminded her pathway to victory.
Set 1 Groundstroke Performance
- Forehands: 2 winners / 16 errors = -14
- Backhands: 0 winners / 7 errors = -7
- Total: 2 winners / 21 errors = -19
- Forehands: 4 winners / 14 errors = -10
- Backhands: 1 winner / 1 error = 0
- Total: 5 winners / 10 errors = -10
As you can clearly see from Set 1, Gauff ended up -19, and Sabalenka ended up -10 when you subtract groundstroke winners from groundstroke errors. Sabalenka was simply pounding Gauff into submission.
Set 2: Game 1
This is where Gauff (and the crowd) won the match.
Serving at love-all, Gauff double-faulted on the opening point of the game and then double-faulted again, trailing 15-30. Disastrous timing.
Now down 15-40, she was staring a set-and-break deficit in the face. If Sabalenka were to break, she could potentially play free and relaxed (as much as possible) to the finish line.
Instead, Sabalenka played four horrible points in a row to gift Gauff the game.
- 15-40 = Sabalenka forehand return error.
- 30-40 = Sabalenka hit two shots in the court and then a slice backhand error wide.
- Deuce = Sabalenka backhand return error.
- Ad In = Sabalenka forehand return error.
After Sabalenka’s forehand return miss at Ad In, Gauff pumped her left fist and walked confidently (as always) to change ends.
The crowd got behind her and found new decibel levels to support their charge. It was deafening. She had just averted a five-alarm fire.
The crowd was intimidating. It worked.
The whole complexion of the match changed right here. The energy changed. Gauff was now floating, while Sabalenka was now doubting herself. She kept putting her hands out in front of her body, looking at her coaching box in disbelief at how quickly things changed.
It was about to get much worse for Sabelenka.
With Sabalenka serving at 1-2 a couple of games later, she led 40-30, made a first serve, ripped a forehand approach, and made a solid backhand volley cross-court. Gauff ran it down (of course she did) and rolled a perfect backhand passing shot past Sabalenka that landed right through the sideline.
Gauff stood still and fist-pumped, raising the crowd participation to a frenzied level.
Sabalenka would never recover.
This single point signaled the beginning of the end for Sabalenka and the ascent of a new champion in our sport. Sabalenka was shook. She flew a routine forehand long at deuce and double faulted down break point. Goodbye.
The crowd of 28,143 had been fully activated by Gauff, and she controlled the match from this moment forward. Gauff was locked in.
Consider Gauff’s third set groundstroke analytics vs. Sabalenka.
Set Three Groundstroke Performance
- Forehands: 1 winners / 2 errors = -1
- Backhands: 3 winners / 4 errors = -1
- Total: 4 winners / 6 errors = -2
- Forehands: 6 winners / 16 errors = -10
- Backhands: 1 winner / 6 errors = -5
- Total: 7 winners / 22 errors = -15
Gauff was in the zone. If she won or lost the point, the body language was the same. It was destiny, and she felt it. Almost thirty thousand people in the crowd felt it. She floated along on a magic carpet in the third set, and not even a Sabalenka medical time-out at 4-1 could throw her off her game.
The average rally length for the final was 4.37 shots, thanks mainly to some of the best defense ever seen (men or women) on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Gauff’s baseline performance was for the ages.
Baseline Points Won (Match)
- Gauff = 51% (54/106)
- Sabalenka = 44% (42/95)
Gauff won the all-important 0-4 rally length 55-46 and played dead-even with Sabalenka (28-28) in all rallies of five shots or greater. The 0-4 rally length strikes again, but that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone by now.
Here’s Gauff’s rally-length performance for the tournament. The sweet spot is easy to identify.
- 0-4 Shots: 346 won / 246 lost = +100
- 5-8 Shots: 124 won / 119 lost = +5
- 9+ Shots: 85 won / 73 lost = +12
It is crystal clear to see where Gauff forged her advantage during two weeks in New York. She completely dominated short points of two shots or less in the court from each player – by 100 points.
The rest is just gravy.
It’s fascinating to see that Gauff hit 26 aces and committed 26 double faults for the tournament. She often comes forward too early at the start of her service motion, causing her energy to continue to go forward instead of up. She is dropping her head and shoulders too much at contact. A relatively easy fix.
Gauff put 86% of all returns in play, which was tied for 7th best in the tournament. A very solid effort. She won a staggering 60% (127/212) against her opponent’s 2nd serves. It was her weapon – not theirs. She won 48% of all return games. Goodnight.
Gauff faced ten break points in the final. She lost three of the first four she faced and then made six straight first serves down break point for the rest of the match, winning every single one. Clutch City, USA.
By contrast, Sabalenka faced nine break points and started strongly defending them but then fell apart. Sabalenka made a first serve against her first four break points in the opening set but then only made one first serve from her remaining five break points through sets two and three. Of the four break points where she missed her first serve, she lost every point.
It was a high-quality final. Gauff’s attitude was exemplary. In fact, this final should be required viewing by every junior tennis player on the planet to witness what it’s like to overcome adversity by staying strong and positive when things are not going your way.
The USTA should mandate every junior in the country watch this match to emulate Coco’s positive body language at all moments in the match. You should not be allowed to play a junior tournament without first studying this match. Period.
Gauff’s attitude was incredibly strong. Her footwork was from another planet. Her small adjusting steps prior to contact were a blur. Her first pumps made almost 30,000 fans lose their marbles.
Congratulations Coco. A dynasty is born in New York. Glad to be watching from the stands.