Coco Gauff and Aryna Sabalenka have beat the heat and outsmarted their opponents on the way to the 2023 US Open Final, and their stats have the look and sheen of many men’s matches. Here’s why.
Serves: Gauff vs Sabalenka
Both the American Gauff and the Belarussian Sabalenka have powerful first serves that touch speeds equal to or greater than some men on the ATP Tour. As long as Gauff and Sabalenka are making a decent amount of first serves and winning those first-serve points at a clip over 60-65%, they are optimizing the foundations of their game. It’s the same with the men, who hold serve the vast majority of the time.
The 2023 US Open semifinals provided a good apples-to-apples comparison because of the nearly identical conditions on the same court. Sabalenka notched far more aces in her semifinal than Gauff did (12 to 1). Both their opponents were quality returners.
As for speed, first serves also give Sabalenka an advantage. Gauff’s average was 101 on first serve, while Sabalenka’s was 109.
Second Serve: Where The Battle Is Waged
Just like in men’s tennis, the women’s semifinals were decided primarily on second serve points. All four players displayed similar match metrics, but Gauff and Sabalenka pulled away from their opponents on the critical “second serve points won” metric.
Gauff managed to win 67% of her second serve points, which is Rafa Nadal-like, while Karolina Muchova managed just 47%. That’s the match right there. Sabalenka bested Madison Keys 57% to 47% in that area. Keep in mind, anything over 50% is the gold standard. That’s where you want to be.
The Belarussian also goes for more on second serve and employs slice and flat more on second serve than does Gauff, who tends to use kick.
Gauff vs Sabalenka: Return of Serve
Sabalenka is making far fewer return errors in 2023, and this has contributed to her massive success this year. She still goes for it, but she’s hitting returns with more margin. Aryna didn’t hit any return winners against Keys, and that’s actually a good sign. She opted not to go for too much against a quality server. Sabalenka was rewarded by besting her opponent in the category of “return points won” 43% to 39%.
As for Gauff, she really enjoyed a brilliant returning night by winning 50% of her return points against Muchova, who could only manage 37% against Coco’s serve.
One final note: The average rally length in the Sabalenka semifinal was a rock-bottom 3.24 with the vast majority of points ending in 0-4 shots. The Gauff match sported an average rally length of over 5. That was boosted in part by a mesmerizing 40-ball rally which set up the final match point for Coco.
This is the meat of the Gauff vs Sabalenka matchup. Can Coco extend the rallies by one or two more shots against Sabalenka? How would a player do that? Return well, particularly on second serve– and play defense. The American has been showing better defensive management in this 2023 US Open, and she will need that vital skill against Sabalenka.