An All-American Women’s Final at the US Open, Sans Williams
Sloan Stephens and Madison Keys will face each other at the US Open women’s final on Saturday.
Sloane Stephens watched January's Australian Open from her couch, a large cast on her left foot rendering her immobile and raising questions in her mind about her ability to ever play Grand Slam tennis again.
At the US Open on Thursday, she was two points away from defeating Venus Williams in the women’s semi-final before pulling out a victory and marching into her first-ever Grand Slam final.
On Saturday, she will face Madison Keys, her friend, at the final. Only, unlike the many dozen matches they may have played at practice, on Saturday, they will both be playing for their first-ever Grand Slam title. It will also be the first time two American women will compete for the title since 2002 when Venus lost 6-4 6-3 to Serena Williams.
"I have a lot of grit," said Stephens, who is ranked 83rd after having surgery on her left foot in January and is the fourth unseeded finalist at the tournament in the Open era, which dates to 1968. "I don't give up. Like, I'm not just going to give it to someone. I'm not just going to let them take it from me."
And the 24-year-old proved just how much grit she has, beating the much favoured ninth seeded Venus Williams 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 on Thursday. The semi-final win also guarantees that Stephens, who was ranked 957 at the end of July, will rocket up the WTA rankings at the end of the tournament. She will move to 22nd if she loses, and will move possibly as high as 15th if she defeats compatriot Madison Keys to win the title.
15th-seeded Keys though will be no pushover. She dominated No. 20 Coco Vandeweghe 6-1, 6-2 in the other semi-final to book her shot at glory at Flushing Meadows.
The American though has had her own recent health issue to deal with: She missed the first two months of this year after an offseason operation on her left wrist, then needed another procedure in June because of pain in that arm.
"It was kind of one of those days where I came out and I was kind of in a zone, and I just kind of forced myself to stay there," Keys said about her play on Thursday.
She had 25 winners to only nine unforced errors, never faced a break point and needed barely more than an hour to win.
"Madison played an unbelievable match," said Vandeweghe, who wiped away tears during her news conference. "I didn't really have much to do with anything out there."
It would have been even shorter, except play was delayed for more than five minutes when Keys left the court to have her upper right leg taped at 4-1 in the second set. She said she first felt something in that leg in her previous match but made it sound as if the treatment was simply a precaution.
"I just didn't want it to become something that would be bad," Keys said. "So as soon as I kind of felt it get the tiniest bit worse, I just had it wrapped to try and prevent anything from happening."
Stephens and Keys have only played once before on the WTA tour, on a hard court at Miami in 2015. Stephens won in straight sets.
Away from the court, though, they know each other well. On Saturday, one will raise a Grand Slam trophy for the first time, at the other's expense.
"She's one of my closest friends on tour. It's obviously going to be tough," Stephens said. "It's not easy playing a friend."
(With inputs from AP and Reuters)
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