Sloane Stephens never looked shaken by the set or the stakes in her first Grand Slam final. Her opponent, Madison Keys, most definitely did.
Stephens dominated her close friend Keys 6-3, 6-0 on Saturday to win the U.S. Open, capping a remarkably rapid rise after sitting out 11 months because of foot surgery.
The 83 rd-ranked Stephens is only the second unseeded girl to win the tournament in the Open era, which began in 1968.
This was the first all-American women’s final at Flushing Meadows since 2002, when Serena Williams beat Venus Williams.
It was also only the second time in the Open era that two women in New York were making their Grand Slam final debuts against one another. Stephens most certainly handled the occasion better, claiming the past eight games and attaining merely six unforced faults — Keys had 30 — in the entire 61 -minute mismatch.
Keys, 22, and Stephens, 24, have known each other for years. They texted and spoke on the phone early in 2017, when both sat out the Australian Open because of operations — Keys on her left wrist, Stephens on her left foot.
When the match aimed, they met at the net for a long hug. While waiting for the trophy rite to begin, Stephens strolled over and plopped herself down in a courtside chair next to Keys, so they could chat side-by-side.
Under a clear blue sky, in unseasonably cool conditions in the 60 s, the 15 th-seeded Keys came out pounding her serves, as usual, creating two aces in her opening game and cranking up the speed to 118 mph in her second. But that didn’t last long.
By Keys’ third service game, Stephens was returning with confidence. It was Keys who blinked first, four groundstroke faults to gift the first infringe and trail 3-2 after 12 minutes. Those miscues just maintained on coming, as she repeatedly dumped what should have been routine shoots into the net or sprayed them long, the sort of thing that can be a sign of nerves.
Her body language was of someone who was rattled.
She looked up at her coach, former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport, in the guest box at Arthur Ashe Stadium, as if hoping for some sort of guidance. She sat in her changeover chair and buried her face in a white towel. After getting broken to trail 4-0 in the second situate, the sixth game in a row that went to Stephens, Keys took an angry slap at a tennis ball.
With so much help from the other side of the net, Stephens did not need to be spectacular, just solid, and that she was. She made only two unforced mistakes in the entire first defined — 15 fewer than Keys — and merely two of Stephens’ 30 phases in the first decide came via her own clean winners.
Stephens won 16 of 20 phases she served in the first decide and didn’t face a single breaking phase until 50 minutes into the final, deep in the second situated. She had to deal with three in one game there, erased each with a winner, and held for 5-0. Soon enough it was over.
A year ago, Stephens sat out the U.S. Open because of what turned out to be a stress fracture in her foot. She had surgery in January, and built her season debut at Wimbledon in July, exiting in the first round. Lost her next match, too, in Washington. Since then, she has run 15 -2, and her ranking has risen from outside the top 900, to what will be around No. 20 as of Monday.
And she has become a Grand Slam champion.
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