Sloane Stephens is the new US Open champion, with a crushing 6-3 6-0 victory over her good friend Madison Keys in the final. Beginning at Wimbledon, Sloane has managed to play just 5 tournaments this year but already finds herself inside the top 20 after beginning that run outside the top 900. Nearly a year out with injury and unable to put weight on her foot for months on end, it is a remarkable turn around for her. For Keys, two wrist surgeries this year have impacted her badly but a final is still a great end to her summer.
It felt like Keys had come in rightly as favourite, playing some great attacking tennis throughout the tournament. She had wiped the floor with CoCo Vandeweghe in the semi finals and more importantly, was not even looking troubled on serve. However, from 2-2 onwards her service games were under siege on each occasion. One of her 30 unforced errors, a routine forehand long, gave Sloane the first break of the match. Meanwhile, Keys was getting nowhere on return in the first set and won just 4 points overall there. A second break ended the set with Keys once more hitting long after a strong Stephens return.
Keys’ record against some of the more defensive players on tour (1-6 Kerber, 1-5 Halep, 0-2 Wozniacki) makes for bad reading and that would be point to it being a pretty good matchup for Sloane but she still had to put a pretty good gameplan into action. It wasn’t all just allowing Keys to blast herself out the match as the first break of the second set came on a beautiful passing shot. Keys double faulted to give away the second break as any hope was extinguished, and for good after 0-40 in the next game came and went.
Despite showing some fight serving to stay in the match, it did end in a 0-6 second set for Keys. A forehand into the net ended it before the pair shared a long embrace at the net. The often dour post-tournament ceremony was brightened up by the pair with the highlight being Sloane’s audible gasp when being provided with her $3.7m winners cheque.
“Once I kind of let that go and just realized that whatever is meant to be is going to be, that I worked hard to get here and, you know, that’s that, then I think a lot of that stress was relieved and I was able to just play free and run and compete and just get out there and get after it every match. I mean, 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.” Sloane said of her thought process when it came to looking at her career after all this time out.
“You know, obviously I didn’t play my best tennis today. 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.” Keys said.
It may have been a disappointing final in the end but it’s time to end the narrative that seems to be presiding through the women’s game – that players cannot be friends at the top level and compete well. The way that the pair supported each other before and after the match is great, even after one of them had a nightmare match. Keys will be back at the deep end of slams though with her game and between her, Sloane and Girls finalists Amanda Anisimova and Cori Gauff – it’s fair to say that American tennis may remain in a good place once the Williams sisters move on.