US Open 2023: Highlights from a memorable, and sometimes weird, women's tournament

Coco Gauff was the well-deserved headliner, but it was a tournament full of unique moments. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

NEW YORK -- Somehow it always felt inevitable that 19-year-old Coco Gauff, anointed the "next great American tennis star" as a 15-year-old, would win her first Grand Slam title at the US Open. On Saturday, playing in only her second major final, she did just that, defeating No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 to become the youngest American woman to win in New York since 17-year-old Serena Williams won her first major here in 1999.

"It means so much to me," Gauff said during the on-court trophy presentation. "My dad took me here to watch Venus and Serena compete and it's really cool to be on this stage. Today was the first time I've ever seen my dad cry."

So much has happened during the past two weeks, from a surprise fourth-round exit by the world No. 1 to a barefoot protester and a heatwave that prompted officials to alter the closed-roof policy.

Here are our round-by-round highlights from a memorable women's draw.

Coco Gauff outlasts Laura Siegemund to avoid first-round upset

Coco Gauff defeats Laura Siegemund in three sets in the opening round of the US Open.

First round: The slow burn

Coco Gauff def. Laura Siegemund 3-6, 6-2, 6-4

Gauff has been unstoppable since making an unexpected and disappointing first-round exit at Wimbledon in July. She won the two biggest titles of her career this summer and showed no signs of slowing down -- until her opening-day match.

With former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama seated in the crowd, Gauff dropped the first set to Siegemund, the 35-year-old German qualifier who ... took ... her ... time ... between points and frustrated the Florida teen. In the second set, Gauff needed 25 minutes, 30 points and eight break-point opportunities to earn a break and turn the momentum -- if not the speed of play -- in her favor for good. In the third set, Gauff finally appealed to official Marijana Veljovic.

Coco Gauff gets into it with chair umpire

Coco Gauff voices her frustrations over time constraints with the chair umpire.

"She's never ready when I'm serving," Gauff said. "How is this fair? I'm going a normal speed. Ask any ref here. I've been quiet the whole match. Now it's ridiculous. I don't care what she's doing on her serve, but [on] my serve, she has to be ready." Veljovic finally issued a penalty to Siegemund, Gauff closed out the match and afterward, said the Obamas told her she handled herself well. "[Michelle] said it's good to speak up for myself," Gauff said. "I think she was happy that I spoke up for myself today."

Second round: The late entry

Taylor Townsend def. Beatriz Haddad Maia 7-6 (1), 7-5

When former world No. 1 Simona Halep was dropped from this year's US Open field because of a provisional doping suspension, her spot in the singles main draw went to Townsend. The 27-year-old gave birth to her first child, Adyn, in March 2021 and returned to the tour last year. Here, she played in all three draws, made the doubles quarterfinals with teammate Leylah Fernandez of Canada and the mixed doubles semifinals with fellow American Ben Shelton -- and had her best singles showing in New York since making the round of 16 in 2019.

Townsend's win over the 27-year-old Brazilian was her second this year over a top-20 player. She also upset American Jessica Pegula, the No. 3 player in the world, in Rome in May. But this performance over the No. 19 seed was the highlight of Townsend's two weeks. "Court 17 was lit," Townsend said after the match. "I literally came off the court, I was like, 'That was so fire. It was so fun.' I was feeding off the energy."

Townsend lost in the next round to Karolina Muchova, who lost in the semis to Gauff.

Caroline Wozniacki advances to fourth round to continue comeback story

Former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki defeats Jennifer Brady in three sets to move on at the US Open.

Third round: The comeback clash

Caroline Wozniacki def. Jen Brady 4-6, 6-3, 6-1

This was a matchup made in storytelling heaven. Both women staged incredible returns to Grand Slam tennis in New York: Wozniacki, 33, after retiring in 2020 to start a family, and Brady, 28, after missing most of the past two years with knee and foot injuries.

Wozniacki is a Grand Slam champion and former world No. 1, but hadn't planned to return to tennis until after she gave birth to her second child last October and started hitting again. She said she realized she still had the game to compete, was more relaxed and enjoyed the sport more.

Brady returned to competition in July and had never made it to the third round in New York until this year. She took the first set from Wozniacki, but the Dane found another gear in the second, and two of the best comeback stories of the year treated the crowd at Ashe to one of the most memorable three-setters of the tournament.

Wozniacki lost in the next round to Gauff.

Ostapenko upsets No. 1 Swiatek in three sets

Jelena Ostapenko hits a forehand winner on match point to complete the upset against Iga Swiatek.

Fourth round: The second week stunner

Jelena Ostapenko def. Iga Swiatek 3-6, 6-3, 6-1

Swiatek was a heavy favorite to repeat in New York, but Ostapenko loomed as a difficult fourth-round hill for Swiatek to climb. Entering this match, Swiatek was 0-3 against the 26-year-old Latvian, who was the last player to beat her before she went on a 37-match win streak last season.

Because of the loss, Swiatek will relinquish her No. 1 ranking to Sabalenka when the new world rankings are released on Monday.

Ostapenko lost in the next round to Gauff.

Madison Keys cruises into 3rd career US Open semifinals

Madison Keys defeats Marketa Vondrousova in straight sets to advance to the US Open semifinals.

Quarterfinals: The undercover boss

Madison Keys def. Marketa Vondrousova 6-1, 6-4

Keys played some of her best tennis in the tournament, and did so for most of the two weeks under the radar and as an underdog. "It's been great," Keys said of her low-key profile as of late. On Wednesday, against this year's Wimbledon champion, Keys looked like she was on her way to a Grand Slam final. She played with power and committed few unforced errors, and her service game was stunning throughout the tournament. This match, however, was by far her best showing of the US Open.

Keys lost in the next round to Sabalenka. After storming to a 6-0 first-set win against the Belarusian, Keys let the match get away and left the tournament in tears. "Right now, it sucks," Keys said. "I think being able to take this and turn it into a positive is really possible. There's still a lot to be proud of, and still tons of tennis to play this season."

Semifinals: The early celebration

Aryna Sabalenka def. Madison Keys 0-6, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5)

It happens in racing sometimes, but it's a rare phenomenon in tennis: An athlete forgets what lap they're on or where they are in the competition and celebrates early. It's embarrassing, yes. But it can also be a devastatingly tough snafu from which to recover.

This year, it happened twice in the women's draws. First, in Gauff's first-round doubles match with Pegula against fellow Americans Elizabeth Mandlik and Quinn Gleason. Gauff and Pegula needed just 47 minutes to win in straight sets (they eventually lost in the quarterfinals), but leading 6-2, 4-1, Gauff crushed a forehand winner to break and celebrated like she'd hit match point. She reached to hug Pegula, who backed away, laughed and reminded her the score was only 5-1. They needed to win one more game.

Then in the third-set tiebreak of a tight semifinal against Keys, Sabalenka dropped her racket and clutched her face with her hands after earning her seventh point of the tiebreak. That score would have won her the first- or second-set tiebreak, but the final-set tiebreak goes to 10. Sabalenka's team reminded her of the rules and her eyes widened. "Actually, I thought that we play the tiebreak up to seven," Sabalenka admitted during her on-court interview. "I don't know! I was just all over the place..."

Somehow, Sabalenka refocused and finished the job, taking the tiebreak 10-5 over Keys and earning a spot in Saturday's final.