While Aryna Sabalenka didn't secure her second Grand Slam title of the season, facing a defeat in a thrilling three-set match against Coco Gauff in the 2023 US Open final, she sees this experience as a valuable learning opportunity as she eyes finishing the year at World No.1.
Sabalenka arguably had the best season of any player this year on the WTA Tour this year; reaching at least the semifinals in all four majors, winning her first Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open, three singles titles overall (including her second victory at the 1000 event in Madrid, defeating No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the final), and, starting on Monday, becoming the new world No. 1 for the first time in her career.
"Becoming a world No. 1, it's a huge improvement and achievement. I'm really proud of myself that all those years I have been working so hard helped me to become World No. 1. But for me, it's more about the (year-end) world No. 1, not just like (becoming) world No. 1 and then next week you're second.
"It's good 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," Sabalenka said in a post-match press conference.
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. So, I always had to play like an extra ball."
"The unforced errors were a lot in the second set, and that's where I get her (to) believe that she can win this match. I got over emotional after the second set," she said about her final match against Gauff.
Despite the loss, Sabalenka will still rise to World No.1 in Monday's updated singles rankings. 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.