Aryna Sabalenka fights back to deny the US Open an all-American women’s final

Aryna Sabalenka fights back to deny the US Open an all-American women’s final
Aryna Sabalenka beat Madison Keys for a place in the final Credit: Getty Images/Kena Betancu

By Molly McElwee, in New York

Aryna Sabalenka completed an epic comeback over American Madison Keys to reach her maiden US Open final.

Sabalenka – who is guaranteed to become the world No 1 on Monday – was brutally bagelled in the first set after Keys had a flawless opening set. Sabalenka also trailed 5-3 in the second but somehow fought her way back. Keys, 28, was a finalist in New York six years ago so had been in this situation before. But when she served for the match, she bottled it and was broken to love by a resurgent Sabalenka who went on to win the second set.

The Belarusian dialed back into the match and pushed it to a deciding set 10-point tiebreak. Amid the tension, there was then a comical moment as Sabalenka dropped her racket in celebration when she led 7-3, believing she had won the match. But when she was reminded it was a 10-point tiebreak - rather than seven - she laughed, red-faced. She then had to hold her nerve to serve it out, winning 0-6,7-6, 7-6 in two hours and 32 minutes.

“I thought that we played the tiebreak up to seven, I don’t know. I was just all over the place,” Sabalenka, 25, said in her on-court interview. “But thanks team for reminding me it’s up to 10. I’m really happy I was able to finish this match. She played incredible tennis, it was just another level. Somehow, I don’t know how I turned it around, how I won it. It means so much to me.” 

Sabalenka on facing Gauff in the final

She’s unbelievable and she’s playing really incredible tennis. 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 reacts

I was just all over the place but thanks team for reminding me it was up to 10.

I was happy I was able to finish this match.

Madison Keys played incredible tennis – it was just another level. I don’t how I turned this match. It really means a lot to me. I know you wanted her to win but thanks to you for staying and thanks for the atmosphere and thank you to those who supported me.

Keys 6-0, 6-7, 6-7 Sabalenka - TIEBREAK

Sabalenka shanks a forehand return long, 4-9. Deep Keys return and Sabalenka nets a backhand, 5-9. 

Keys forehand return long, 5-10. GAME SET MATCH SABALENKA.

Keys 6-0, 6-7, 6-6 Sabalenka - TIEBREAK

Sabalenka dictates the rally with her forehand and Keys’ can’t get the ball back into play, 2-5. Keys redirects a backhand down the line for a winner, 3-5. Flowing forehand winner from Sabalenka, 3-6. 

Sabalenka forehand down the line, Keys gets there but nets, 3-7. Sabalenka drops her racket and thinks she won but she hasn’t. Defensive Keys backhand goes wide, 3-8. Great hustle by Sabalenka and she finishes the point with an angled forehand winner, 3-9.

Keys 6-0, 6-7, 6-6 Sabalenka - TIEBREAK

Too much power on the return from Sabalenka and Keys’ forehand is long, 0-1. Backhand unforced error by Keys, 0-2. Another backhand error by Keys, 0-3. Sabalenka forehand winner, 0-4. 

Keys forehand winner down the line, 1-4. Deep Keys return and Sabalenka nets a backhand, 2-4. 

Keys* 6-0, 6-7, 6-6 Sabalenka

Pressure? What pressure? Back-to-back aces from Sabalenka and she holds easily.

A 10 point match tiebreak will decide who meets Coco Gauff in Saturday’s final.

Keys 6-0, 6-7, 6-5 Sabalenka*

Ideal service game for Keys at this stage of the match as she races to 40-0. A forehand winner into the corner and the American holds to 15 and guarantees herself at least a tiebreak.

Keys* 6-0, 6-7, 5-5 Sabalenka

Sabalenka crushes a forehand past the racket of Keys, 30-15. Just her sixth winner off that wing in the match. Another huge forehand by Sabalenka is too hot for Keys. 

119mph ace from Sabalenka to hold.

Keys 6-0, 6-7, 5-4 Sabalenka*

Big moment in the match coming up after Keys nets a forehand, 30-30. The American responds by finding her first serve and Sabalenka doesn’t get the ball back in play.

Sabalenka hangs her head after missing a forehand down the line and Keys holds to move a game away from the set.

Pressure back on Sabalenka...

Keys* 6-0, 6-7, 4-4 Sabalenka

As we enter the business end of the set, the nerves are beginning to show for both players.

A short slice by Keys forces Sabalenka forward and she pushes a forehand into the tramlines, 30-40.

Huge ‘come on’ from Sabalenka as she dominates the rally and finishes with a backhand winner, deuce. Keys earns herself another break point, bravely coming to the net and hitting a drop volley which Sabalenka reaches but her flick goes long.

Clutch play by Sabalenka as she attacks the net and finishes with a volley winner. Keys backhand wide and Sabalenka holds. She is playing her best tennis when it matters most.

Keys 6-0, 6-7, 4-3 Sabalenka*

Keys backhand into the net, 15-30. Keys leaves the ball short and Sabalenka pounces on it to hit a forehand which Keys can’t get back, two break points.

77mph Keys second serve and it’s punished by Sabalenka who blasts a forehand return deep and Keys nets a backhand.

Sabalenka breaks back.

Keys* 6-0, 6-7, 4-2 Sabalenka

Two forehand errors by Sabalenka and a double fault gifts Keys three break points. She has to take this chance.

Sabalenka saves the first with an ace. Keys breaks! Sabalenka’s forehand woes return as she goes long with a cross court shot.

Keys’ support box rises to applaud her. She’s two games from the final again. Will Sabalenka suffer semi-final heartbreak once more?

Madison Keys hits a forehand Credit: USA TODAY/Danielle Parhizkaran

Keys 6-0, 6-7, 3-2 Sabalenka*

Keys’ first serve is keeping her out of trouble and in the lead as she holds to 15 now. Can she summon the energy to break Sabalenka again?

Keys* 6-0, 6-7, 2-2 Sabalenka

Another routine service hold for Sabalenka, who has a steely look of determination on her face.

Keys 6-0, 6-7, 2-1 Sabalenka*

Much of the crowd has left at the start of the third set. But they are missing Keys respond to the occasion and not give in to the power from Sabalenka.

A backhand winner down the line seals a service hold to 15.

Keys* 6-0, 6-7, 1-1 Sabalenka

Hard to believe Sabalenka was broken five times in six games when you see her serve her way to 40-0. And big 106mph second serve down the T seals a hold to 30.

Looking ominous for Keys. The momentum of this match has shifted.

Third Set: Keys 6-0, 6-7, 1-0 Sabalenka* (*denotes next server)

At the conclusion of the second set Keys called for the physio to look at a hip issue. After an on-court assessment, Keys leaves for further treatment. When Keys returns she has heavy strapping on her left thigh. Let’s see if her movement is restricted. 

Couple of errors from Keys, 15-30. She responds with a forehand winner after a poor drop shot from Sabalenka, 30-30. Another forehand error from Keys, break point. 

Sabalenka goes on the attack but goes for too much and her backhand is long, deuce. Gutsy hold for Keys completed when Sabalenka nets a backhand.

Madison Keys lost the second set Credit: AP/John Minchillo

Keys 6-0, 6-7 Sabalenka - TIEBREAK

Keys backhand into the net, 1-6. Five set points. Keys forehand return into the net and Sabalenka forces a third set, 1-7.

18 unforced errors for Keys prove costly.

Keys 6-0, 6-6 Sabalenka - TIEBREAK

Sabalenka first serve unreturned, 0-1. Keys second serve returned into the net by Sabalenka, 1-1. Keys double fault, 1-2. Keys has to put away a volley but she doesn’t as the ball bounces wide, 1-3. Sabalenka first serve unreturned, 1-4.

Keys forehand wide, 1-5. The crowd falls silent. 

Keys 6-0, 6-6 Sabalenka*

Feels like Sabalenka isn’t missing any balls right now. The match has turned dramatically.

Deep Sabalenka forehand return and Keys can’t keep the ball in play, 15-30. Keys forehand into the net, two set points for Sabalenka.

Keys saves the first with an ace. And the second when Sabalenka’s backhand drifts long.

More big serving from Keys and she survives. And it’s tiebreak time.

Keys* 6-0, 5-6 Sabalenka

Ace No 6 from Sabalenka makes it 30-0. Keys forehand return into the net, 40-0. Another ace from Sabalenka and she nows leads and applies heavy pressure on Keys. 

An incredible turnaround which has seen her win 13 of the last 16 points. Keys needs to respond quickly otherwise we are looking at a third set.

Keys 6-0, 5-5 Sabalenka*

Sabalenka goes on the attack and Keys’ backhand drifts long, 0-15. Another backhand long from Sabalenka and it’s now 0-30. The crowd tries to get behind the American.

Double fault by Keys, her second of the match, three break points. Sabalenka breaks. What a time to play your best game of the match. Keys nets a backhand and loses her serve to love.

Keys* 6-0, 5-4 Sabalenka

Sabalenka pulls Keys left then right before finishing with a forehand winner, 15-15. Backhand into the net from Keys, 40-15.

Big first serve followed by a backhand winner and Sabalenka holds. All comes down to the next game for Keys.

Keys 6-0, 5-3 Sabalenka*

The equation is simple for Keys. Hold serve twice and she’s into the final.

She starts off with a forehand winner. A precise wide first serve makes it 40-0. But a volley into the net makes it 40-15. She should have made that easily.

Nevertheless, Keys holds when Sabalenka’s backhand return goes long. One game away now...

Keys* 6-0, 4-3 Sabalenka

Love service game for Sabalenka. Much needed to keep her dreams alive.

Keys 6-0, 4-2 Sabalenka*

Is this the game that seals Keys’ place in the final? As we pass the one hour mark, she holds serve when Sabalenka misses with a forehand.

Sabalenka’s support team tries to rally and encourage her. She’s a despondent figure right now.

Madison Keys celebrates winning a point against Aryna Sabalenka Credit: Getty Images /Clive Brunskill

Keys* 6-0, 3-2 Sabalenka

Sabalenka cannot believe she’s missed another forehand which puts her 15-40 down again. 

Wow. Scorching forehand return winner down the line from Keys to break again. That’s simply unplayable tennis.

Keys 6-0, 2-2 Sabalenka*

Better from Sabalenka as she drills a forehand winner into the corner, 15-30. Keys goes long with a backhand down the line, two break points.

Sabalenka goes long with a forehand return to squander the first. Big time hitting from Keys, stepping inside and crushing her 16th winner of the match.

Third break point as Keys miscues a forehand. Sabalenka takes a big swing at Keys’ second serve and the deep forehand rushes Keys into an error.

First break of the match for Sabalenka. Can this be the spark that ignites her?

Keys* 6-0, 2-1 Sabalenka

Sabalenka moves to 40-15 as her serve comes to the fore but a forehand and backhand winner means we go to deuce.

Keys goes right at Sabalenka’s forehand then redirects the ball to her backhand for a winner, break point.

Keys breaks! She fires a backhand at Sabalenka’s feet and the Belarusian’s reply goes into the net.

Unsportsman like code violation for Sabalenka after throwing her racket toward her support box. Seems like she’s unhappy with the racket tension.

Keys 6-0, 1-1 Sabalenka*

First forehand winner of the match from Sabalenka, 0-15. Keys ace, 30-15. Sabalenka berates her box after whipping a forehand into the tramlines, 40-15. She’s at a loss to explain what’s going on.

But Keys remains clear-minded and blasts an ace to win the game.

Second Set: Keys* 6-0, 0-1 Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Seems like the little break did wonders for Sabalenka as she hits three aces to hold serve to love in around 90 seconds.

How will Keys respond?

Keys 6-0 Sabalenka*

Sabalenka throws her arms out in frustration after Keys moves forward and hits a volley winner, 15-15.

Keys wrongfoots Sabalenka with a forehand winner, her eighth of the match, two set points.

Sabalenka saves the first. But not the second as Sabalenka’s backhand return flies long.

Incredible set of tennis. Sabalenka looks bewildered and unsurprisingly asks to leave the court for a toilet break.

Keys* 5-0 Sabalenka

Sabalenka has no answer to forehand power coming from Keys at the moment. Consistently hitting 80mph+ groundstrokes.

Keys decides to mix things up and hits a low slice, Sabalenka doesn’t move her feet well enough and hits a backhand into the net, two break points.

Keys breaks for the third time! Sabalenka hits a woeful sliced backhand into the tramlines. She gave up on that point.

Keys to serve for the set next.


Keys 4-0 Sabalenka*

After playing lights out tennis for the first three games, Keys faces her first test as Sabalenka earns two break points.

But back-to-back errors from Sabalenka keep Keys in the game. More errors from Sabalenka and Keys consolidates the double break.

Aryna Sabalenka reacts Credit: Getty Images/Elsa

Keys* 3-0 Sabalenka

Sabalenka is struggling to her first serves into play and that is allowing Keys to go on the offensive. Two return winners from the American helps her take the game to deuce.

Another double fault from Sabalenka prompts her to change rackets. Break point Keys. 

Sabalenka fires a forehand into the tramlines and Keys secures the double break. The world No 2 can’t believe what’s happening at the moment.

Keys 2-0 Sabalenka*

Keys has only been broken twice in the entire tournament and she doesn’t lose her serve here as she holds when Sabalenka slices a defensive backhand into the net.

First Set: Madison Keys* 1-0 Aryna Sabalenka (*denotes next server)

Statement of intent from Keys as she drills a forehand return down the line for a winner, 15-15. There won’t be many rallies tonight. All about who can get the first big hit in.

Keys attacks with her forehand again and finishes at the net with a simple volley, 15-30. Wow, Keys moves around her backhand and whips a forehand winner cross court, two break points.

Sabalenka saves the first with a gutsy second serve ace, the ball swinging away from Keys’ racket. The two players go toe-to-toe with their backhand before Keys nets. Deuce.

Sabalenka backhand error gives Keys another chance at breaking serve. Sabalenka double fault and Keys does get the break.

Aggressive start from Keys gets its reward.

Here we go!

The second semi-final is moments away. The players are on court and warming up. Arthur Ashe stadium is around 60 per cent full.

The spectators needed a break after the previous match.

The winner of this match will play Gauff in the final

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Women's semi-final

Hello and welcome to coverage of the second women’s semi-final between Madison Keys and Aryna Sabalenka.

The winner of this match will face whoever triumphs in the first semi between Coco Gauf and Karolina Muchova. 

Sabalenka has been beaten in the last four in her previous two visits to New York but earlier this year she made her major breakthrough by winning the Australian Open.

She also lost her semi-finals at the French Open and Wimbledon but the Belarusian is proud of her performances at the big events.

“Yeah, I’m super proud of myself and my team that we have been able to adjust to different conditions, different courts,” she said. “We were able to bring this consistency in my game. Yeah, this is something I’m really proud of, and it’s just unbelievable and I’m just super happy right now that I’m being able to do this.”

The two players faced each other at the Wimbledon quarter-final stage with Sabalenka winning convincingly. But Keys believes she has learned lessons from that match which she can take into this showdown.

“I think there is obviously a lot of things that I can take from the match,” she said. “The No 1 thing being she beat me (smiling).

“But I think that there is still going to be similar patterns and tendencies that she has that I can definitely lean into.

“And also, in the second set at Wimbledon, I was up a break and I had chances. I was definitely in the match and had opportunities, so I think even though I lost that match, it wasn’t, like, you know, I wasn’t in the match and I had no idea what I was doing out there.

“So I think there is a lot of positives that I can take out of that match and try to implement.”