A second Grand Slam title of the season was not to be for Aryna Sabalenka, who fell in a three-setter to Coco Gauff in the 2023 US Open final. But the incoming top-ranked player in the world is using this as a learning opportunity, as she eyes finishing the year at World No.1.
"There's some positive things I'm leaving [with], some not really positive, but it's OK," Sabalenka said in her post-match press conference. "It's a process. We're all learning. And I guess it's a lesson for me I will learn and then come back stronger."
The reigning Australian Open champion had a one-set lead in Saturday night's final, but Gauff charged back to complete a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 comeback and thwart Sabalenka's shot at going undefeated at this year's hard-court majors.
"In the first set I was dealing with my emotions quite good," Sabalenka said. "I was focused on myself, not on the crowd or the way [Gauff] moves. ... Then the second set I started probably overthinking, and because of that I started kind of losing my power."
The tables turned in that second set, where Gauff never dropped serve and drew more errors from Sabalenka than in the first set. "[Gauff] was moving really well and defending really great, better than anybody else," Sabalenka said. "So I always had to play like an extra ball."
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"Sometimes I can get emotional," Sabalenka added. "Today on the court, I was overthinking and I was missing quite, like, not easy balls, but the balls I shouldn't be missing.
"[The] unforced errors was a lot in the second set, and that's where I get her [to] believe that she can win this match. I got overemotional after the second set."
Despite the loss, Sabalenka will still rise to World No.1 in Monday's updated singles rankings. "Probably that's why I'm not super depressed right now," Sabalenka said with a smile.
The ascent to the top comes after Sabalenka's career-best Grand Slam season. After three prior semifinal losses in majors, Sabalenka reached her first Grand Slam final at this year's Australian Open, then won her first major title by beating Elena Rybakina in the final.
Semifinal showings followed at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, before her second Slam final in New York. Sabalenka scored 23 Grand Slam match-wins this season, and only three players this century have won more in a single year -- Serena Williams (twice), Justine Henin (twice) and Jennifer Capriati.
"Becoming a World No.1, it's a huge improvement, and achievement," said Sabalenka, who has won three titles this season. "I'm really proud of myself that all those years I have been working so hard helped me to become World No.1.
"It's good so that I can say I have been World No.1, but I really would like to finish the year as World No.1. That's why I'm still positive, and I'm still motivated."