Saving women’s tennis in America and continuing the iconic excellence and standard set by the Williams Sisters for African-American woman in tennis was actually the easy part for Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys who met on Saturday in the Finals of the 2017 Womens U.S. Open.
Sloane Stephens wins her 1st major title at the US Open. The last American woman to win her 1st major at the US Open: Serena Williams, 1999.
Both young women fought through recent injuries and overcame the ageless wonder that is Venus Williams and the looming shadow that is new mother Serena Williams en route to carving out a place for themselves in the tennis hierarchy. Both women looked around before the final match was played and realized that it is official; the world was their stage, void of any living legends to steal the spotlight.
Keys had to overcome two wrist surgeries to reach this point.
“I have had a very interesting year, Keys said to the crowd, referencing the ups and downs that led to this improbable but totally possible finals appearance. Really rough start, surgery in the middle of it ..if you told me two months ago I’d be holding a finalist trophy for the U.S. Open I’d be really happy and proud of myself.”
Stephens had some physical setbacks as well, which put this season in doubt. Stephens, who has been on the hot prospect radar since 10 years old, took 11 months off after foot surgery in 2016 and she says the time off helped her put things in perspective and cherish the little things in life. It was a long road back to the top but she made it and then some.
Resilience and persistence has elevated these women to superstar status. Stephens was asked about the setbacks she and Stephens have endured.
“I had surgery January 23rd and if someone told me I’d win the US open I’d say it’s impossible, Stephens said to the crowd at U.S. Tennis Center in Flushing Queens. My journey to get here and coming back…this journey has been incredible and I honestly wouldn’t change it for the world.”
There is life for aspiring African-American women tennis players after The Williams Sisters. The baton was officially passed on Saturday and regardless of the outcome, tennis as a whole has already gotten a boost as two fresh, beautiful, women of color reached the potential that everyone knew they had and one of them was going to come out of the day with their first majors tennis title.
Stephens will earn $3,700,000 for winning the US Open, nearly doubling her career prize money entering the tournament ($4,519,709). I should just retire now, Stephens says. I told Maddy, Im never going to be able to top this. At age 25, she’s really just getting started.
This wont be the last battle between Keys and Madison. In fact, its the beginning of an anticipated rivalry between two women who have teetered on the cusp of greatness for some time and somebody had to break through. While both women came out nervous, it was Stephens who gathered herself enough to storm through the match, winning 6-3, 6-0 in straight sets over Keys.
Relive Sloane Stephens’ first Grand Slam win against Madison Keys.
Sloane Stephens has dipped her painted toe nail into the waters of tennis history before. The Plantation, Fla.-born teenager plastered her room with Williams Sisters posters as a child, picked up a tennis racket at age 9 and in ’07 started backhanding through the International Tennis Federation Circuit and up the WTA rankings.
In a storybook twist, Stephens emerged to smash her tennis idol Serena at the Australian Open quarterfinals in January of 2013, becoming the only American younger than Serena to ever beat the 23-time major singles winner
She also has a couple of wins against Venus under her belt, the latest coming in this U.S. Open semifinals. So the only thing for Stephens to do was rise to the moment. The doubt, the underachieving, the injuries, the roller coaster she had been on since that 2013 monumental win was hers to erase and begin a new chapter. Not as a potential superstar, but as a tennis titan who had arrived.
Watch all six match points from Sloane Stephens’ road to the US Open final. Don’t miss the action. Check out the US Open schedule: http://ms.spr.ly/6053rvc31
Said U.S. tennis legend and ESPN commentator Christine Evert of the historic battle:
Stephens handled the moment better.
Maybe it was Madisons wrapped thigh or maybe it was her nerves, but Stephens was the player who went and got it. She grabbed the opportunity that history presented. However, both women shared in the magnitude of the day and the optimism of American tennis fans as they spoke about their close relationship and how they wanted each other to do well. The two have been homies since their junior days and have played on Fed Cup teams and Olympic teams together.
Sloane is truly one of my favorite people and to get to play her is really special, said Keys. 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 its her.
It’s a good bet that these two friends will have many more high-stakes matches in the future.