Both players started out nervy, but only Sloane Stephens was able to shake it off, rolling over fellow American Madison Keys winning the last eight games to take it 6-3, 6-0 for her first Grand Slam title on Saturday at the US Open.
Unseeded after 11 months off due to foot surgery, Stephens was far steadier that the No. 15-seeded Keys, striking 10 winners to only six unseeded errors.
“When I had surgery (in January), I was not thinking that I would be anywhere near a US Open title,” Stephens said after the one hour romp. “Nor did I think I was going to be anywhere near the top 100.
“There is no words to describe how I got here, the process it took or anything like that, because if you told someone this story, they’d be, like, That’s insane. I’m just happy to be here.”
She improved to a perfect 5-0 career in finals.
“I was extremely nervous before I went on the court,” added Stephens. “My coach was like, Just breathe, take deep breaths. You know, like, You’ll be fine. Once I got out there, I felt better. Nervous or not, her being nervous, me being nervous, we’re going to have to compete on matter what. We’re going to have to play.
“I was just fortunate enough to hold it together a little bit longer, and I just went out and completed and ran after every ball. That’s all I focused on.”
The 24-year-old Stephens fought off all three of Keys’ break point opportunities, and maintained her calm throughout the match as Keys slammed her racquet against the bottom of her foot, unable to contain the rash of unforced errors on one of her primary weapons, the forehand. She had 30 unforced errors to 18 winners.
Keys created a chance to perhaps get back into the second set with Stephens serving at 4-0, 0-40, but a flurry of Stephens winners off all wings, including the volley, shut the door. Stephens won the final eight games of the match.
The two shared a tearful hug at the net afterwards, and the friends laughed and talked while waiting for the trophy ceremony to start.
“I told Maddie I should just retire now,” said Stephens. “It’s never going to get better than this.”
Stephens got into the main draw with a protected ranking after her 11 months off, and was ranked in the 900s earlier this summer around the time of her comeback at Wimbledon, where she lost in the first round.
“I had surgery January 23,” she said. “If someone had told me then that I would win the US Open, ‘It’s impossible,’ I would say. This journey has been incredible, and honestly I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Keys found herself on the other end of the equation after blowing out another American friend, CoCo Vandeweghe, in the semifinals.
“Sloane is truly one of my favorite people,” said Keys. “To get to play her was really special. Obviously, I didn’t play my best tennis today and was disappointed. But if there’s someone I have to lose to today, I’m glad it’s her.”
Keys, who won the Stanford title earlier this summer, fell to 1-1 in 2017 finals and 3-4 career.
“Obviously I didn’t play my best tennis today,” lamented Keys. “I’m really disappointed. But if you told me as I was getting on a plane to go have my second surgery that I could have a Grand Slam finalist trophy in my hands at the end of the year, I think I’d be really happy.
“I think I mostly learned that I’m a fighter. No matter what, I can figure things out. In a couple of days, I will be really happy, but right now still a little bit disappointed.”
Stephens was ranked No. 957 just in July. She’ll now rank No. 17 tomorrow. And she becomes the second first-time Grand Slam winner this year after Jelena Ostapenko at the French.
“I’m going to totally put this in my bio, US Open champion,” Stephens said. “I think when anyone has a Grand Slam champion in front of their name, it changes things a little bit. So I don’t know if I have arrived or already arrived, been arrived, I don’t know, but I do know I’m a US Open champion.”
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