Madison Keys

Sloane Stephens wins U.S. Open for first Grand Slam title

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NEW YORK — For a decade, tennis fans have asked who will succeed Venus and Serena Williams as the next U.S. champion. Sloane Stephens answered the last two weeks at the U.S. Open and emphatically so on Saturday.

Stephens was near flawless in her first Grand Slam final, dancing around countrywoman and friend Madison Keys 6-3, 6-0 at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The viral moment came after, when she looked eye-poppingly astonished at receiving the $3.7 million winner’s check in a white envelope labeled “Sloane Stephens.”

“Did you see that check that lady handed me?” Stephens said later in the press room. “Man, if that doesn’t make you want to play tennis, I don’t know what will.”

Not bad after missing 10 months due to a foot injury. The Jan. 23 surgery — and following four months unable to walk — was still in Stephens’ mind during her trophy acceptance speech.

“If someone told me then that I’d win the U.S. Open, it’s impossible,” she said. “I should just retire now. I told Maddie [Keys], I’m never going to be able to top this.”

Stephens, a 24-year-old daughter of a Pro Bowl running back and All-America swimmer, became the 12th U.S. woman to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open Era since 1968. And the first other than the Williams sisters in nearly 16 years.

A U.S. man hasn’t won a Grand Slam singles title in 14 years, by far the longest drought in history.

Arguably the fastest woman on tour, Stephens was the cleaner player Saturday afternoon, just as she was against Venus Williams in Thursday’s semifinals.

She didn’t make an unforced error until the ninth game. The power-serving Keys had committed 13 by then. Stephens had only six for the match versus 30 for Keys.

“I made six unforced errors in the whole match?” she retorted to a reporter, beaming. “Shut the front door.”

Stephens’ pre-match strategy worked.

“I literally was looking at car reviews last night on Auto Trader,” she said. “That’s how bored I was.”

A Grand Slam tennis season that began with Venus and Serena meeting in their first major final in more than seven years ended with Stephens and Keys, 22, showcasing what could be the near future of American tennis.

Serena, 35, has been out since winning the Australian Open in January due to pregnancy. She gave birth Sept. 1 to a girl and hopes to return to defend her title in Melbourne and match Margaret Court‘s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.

Venus, 37, won more Grand Slam singles matches than any woman this year, making two finals and a semifinal here. It was her best season in the better part of a decade, but how much does she have left?

While Venus and Serena marched toward each other at that Australian Open, Stephens and Keys spent January at home texting each other. Stephens said if she could face any player in the U.S. Open final, it would be Keys.

“I told her [after the match] I wish there could be a draw because I wished we could have both won,” Stephens said.

The former No. 11 player Stephens came back from surgery July 4 and didn’t win a match until Aug. 7. Her ranking fell to No. 957 in early August because of the missed time.

On Monday, she’ll be No. 17 and the fourth-highest-ranked American (Serena is fifth at No. 22). A big change from 2010, when Venus and Serena were the only Americans to finish the year ranked in the top 57.

Keys, who at age 14 won her first WTA main-draw match and was featured in Sports Illustrated next to Jordan Spieth, underwent two wrist surgeries in the last 11 months.

“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,” she said, adding that she’s been invited to Stephens’ celebration (and joked she wants her drinks paid for). “Today came down to nerves and all of that, and I just don’t think I handled the occasion perfectly.”

Both players fulfilled promise in the last few years by reaching the Australian Open semifinals — Stephens by bouncing Serena Williams in 2013 and Keys overcoming Venus Williams in 2015.

But given each player’s injury setbacks, neither was expected to challenge deep into the second week in New York. Stephens lost in the first round at Wimbledon. Keys was bounced in the second round of the French Open and Wimbledon.

Stephens had no words after match point. Not even a scream. She just covered her mouth. She had plenty to say on court about 20 minutes later, punctuated by this story:

“When I was 11 years old, my mom took me to a tennis academy,” Stephens said on court, with her mother, Sybil Smith, looking on from the crowd. “One of the directors there told my mom that I’d be lucky if I was a Division II player and I got a scholarship. I think any parent that ever supports their child, you can be me one day. So parents, never give up on your kids. If they want to do something, always encourage them.”

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U.S. women to win Grand Slam singles titles (Open Era since 1968)
Billie Jean King
(12 total, including pre-Open Era)
Nancy Richey (2)
Chris Evert (18)
Barbara Jordan (1)
Martina Navratilova (18)
Tracy Austin (2)
Monica Seles (9, with 8 coming while she competed for Yugoslavia)
Lindsay Davenport (3)
Serena Williams (23)
Venus Williams (7)
Jennifer Capriati (3)
Sloane Stephens (1)

Stephens after receiving the winner’s check. (AP)

Venus Williams ousted; young American will win U.S. Open

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NEW YORK — Venus Williams‘ incredible Grand Slam season ended without her first major title in nine years.

Instead, a younger American will win her first Slam at the U.S. Open on Saturday.

An inconsistent Williams fell to speedy Sloane Stephens 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 in the first of two all-American semifinals at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday night.

Stephens won 10 of the last 11 points in a 73-minute rubber set after being two points away from defeat.

Stephens, into her first major final in her fifth event back from foot surgery, will play another first-time finalist, Madison Keys, for the championship.

“When I started my comeback [on July 4], if somebody told me I’d make two semis and a Grand Slam final, I would have passed out,” said Stephens, whose biggest prior win was over Serena Williams in the 2013 Australian Open quarterfinals.

A former No. 11 player, she was ranked outside the top 900 a month ago due to the 10-month injury absence.

“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to run down every ball, didn’t know if my power and timing was still going to be there,” said Stephens, who was still in a walking boot in June. “I didn’t know if everything was still going to be right. The only thing I had to rely on was my fight.”

Keys swept CoCo Vandweghe 6-1, 6-2 in the other semifinal for the biggest win of her career.

“It still doesn’t feel real,” Keys said on court shortly after. “I’m still shaking.”

Stephens, 24, or Keys, 22, will become the first U.S. woman other than a Williams to win a Grand Slam since Jennifer Capriati at the 2002 Australian Open.

Venus Williams’ run to the semifinals at age 37 continued a resurgent campaign. Stephens clapped for Williams as she walked off the court immediately after its conclusion. Williams wasn’t in much of a mood for plaudits.

“I’m definitely here to win my matches, not for consolations,” she said later.

The quadruple Olympic champion won the most Grand Slam singles matches of any woman in 2017 — also making the finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon and the fourth round at the French Open.

She posted her best results at every Slam since her last title at Wimbledon in 2008.

Williams will move into the top five of the WTA rankings next week for the first time in nearly seven years with a great shot to move even higher before the Australian Open in January.

“I will continue to play tennis,” Williams said when asked about her near future plans. “It’s nothing complicated.”

With play like this, Williams, who adores the Olympics, can qualify to play singles at Tokyo 2020 at age 40.

However, U.S. women’s tennis is at its deepest in more than a decade: Stephens, Keys and Vandeweghe, plus Serena Williams to return next year from childbirth.

A nation can qualify a maximum of four singles players per gender for the Olympics.

If Williams is not one of the top four Americans come summer 2020, she could be selected for her sixth Olympics in doubles only.

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USA’s Keys misses out on women’s singles tennis bronze

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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American tennis player Madison Keys will miss out on the podium after losing to Petra Kvitova Czech Republic on Saturday in the bronze medal match of the Olympics in Rio.

Keys, 21, was appearing in her first Olympics and was playing for bronze one day after losing to Angelique Kerber of Germany in Friday’s semifinal.

The ninth-ranked player in the world, Keys beat Montengro’s Danka Kovinic, France’s Kristina Mladenovic, Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro, and Russia’s Daria Kasatkina to reach the semis.