Gauff, Sabalenka Into US Open Final After Climate Protest

Aryna Sabalenka overcame a dramatic scare to continue on track for a second Grand Slam victory, while American prodigy Coco Gauff brushed off disturbance from climate protesters to reach the US Open final on Thursday.

Gauff reached the final for the first time after a night of nerve-wracking semi-final drama, defeating Czech Republic’s 10th seed Karolina Muchova 6-4, 7-5.

The 19-year-old Gauff remained composed as the match was suspended for 49 minutes early in the second set due to an environmental protest in the upper decks of the Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Play was halted while officials sought to remove one of the protesters who had bonded their bare feet to the arena’s concrete floor. The four demonstrators were later apprehended by police.

When play resumed, sixth seed Gauff completed a hard-fought second set to reach her second Grand Slam final.

While the forced stoppage had been “challenging,” the American youngster expressed compassion for the campaigners and their cause.

“I definitely, I believe, you know, in climate change,” Gauff said. “I think there are things we can do better.

“I prefer it not to happen in my match but I wasn’t pissed at the protesters.

“Obviously I don’t want it to happen when I’m winning up 6-4, 1-0, and I wanted the momentum to keep going. But hey, if that’s what they felt they needed to do to get their voices heard, I can’t really get upset at it.”

The protest was the latest high-profile sporting event to be targeted by environmental activists in recent years.

Other Grand Slam tennis events including Wimbledon and the French Open have also been disrupted by protesters

Sabalenka Houdini Act

Gauff, the youngest American woman to reach the US Open final since her idol Serena Williams in 1999, will meet Sabalenka in the final on Saturday.

The 25-year-old Belarussian, who will dethrone Iga Swiatek as world No. 1 at the end of the tournament, has been in spectacular form in New York.

But she had to fight back from a 0-6, 7-6 (7/1), 7-6 (10/5) down against American 17th seed Madison Keys in 2hr 32min to reach the final.

“I’m really proud of myself that I was able to turn around this game and get this win, because it was just incredible,” Sabalenka said after the victory.

“I was just, like, ‘Come on, keep trying, keep pushing, like, I don’t know, do something extra. Just try to turn around this match.’

“I think this kind of thinking really helped me to stay in the game and to keep trying, keep pushing, to still have this belief that I have a chance to turn around this match.”

Sabalenka struggled in the first set and then went a break behind in the second, leaving Keys serving for the match at 5-4.

But the Australian Open champion rallied to force a tie-break, which she easily won, and then rode her luck in the fourth set, rallying from a break down to force another tie-break.

She was left blushing after celebrating victory in the tie-break while she was 7/3 up, oblivious to the 2022 rule change requiring final set tie-breaks to be first-to-10.

“I thought that we play tie-break up till seven,” a sheepish Sabalenka admitted. “I was just all over the place.”

But she quickly regrouped to close out a Houdini act that had looked improbable after her out-of-sorts display for most of the first and second sets.

A devastated Keys was left distraught in defeat, breaking down in tears during the post-match press conference.

“I definitely tried to leave it all out there tonight and do my best, and that’s all you can do,” said Keys, who had come agonisingly close to reaching her second US Open final.

“I think everyone at the start of the tournament would obviously be really, really excited to be in the semis. Right now it sucks.”

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