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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