US Open women’s final to be an all-American affair

Sloane Stephens beats Venus Williams and Madison Keys thrashes CoCo Vandeweghe

Venus Williams congratulates Sloane Stephens after their US Open semi-final clash. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

Venus Williams congratulates Sloane Stephens after their US Open semi-final clash. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

 

Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens will meet in the first all-American women’s final at the US Open in a decade and a half after winning their semi-finals on Thursday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

There is still another match to be played in this most improbable tournament but one thing is certain: the United States is guaranteed a grand slam champion not named Williams for the first time since Andy Roddick in 2003 – and the first on the woman’s side since Jennifer Capriati in 2002.

“I just don’t want anyone to ever ask me about the state of American tennis ever again,” Stephens said on court after a seesaw 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 win over Venus Williams in the night’s opening match. “The proof is in the pudding.”

Stephens was two points from defeat against Williams when she outlasted the seven-time major champion in a marathon 25-shot rally, ending it a with backhand up the line that passed Williams. The Florida native went on to win nine of the final 11 points, including a decisive break in Williams’ final service game, to close the show.

The first two sets were mostly forgettable: a nervy Williams bowed quickly in the opener amid a blur of errors while Stephens buckled in the second with the finish line within sight. But both raised their level for a gripping decider that featured marathon baseline rallies and superb shotmaking over 74 tense minutes.

Williams, the oldest woman in the top 300, was attempting to reach her third major final of the season after runner-up finishes at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. But the 37-year-old made a total of 51 unforced errors, more than twice Stephens’ 24, after averaging 24 in her five previous matches.

It’s been a stunning run for the 25-year-old Stephens, who was ranked 957th only last month after missing nearly a year with a stress fracture that required surgery and extensive rehabilitation, including nearly four months on a self-described “peg leg” when she was unable to put weight on her foot. Now she’s become only the fourth unseeded player to reach the US Open final since the majors allowed professionals to compete with amateurs in 1968.

Madison Keys thrashed CoCo Vandeweghe in straight sets to reach the US Open final. Photograph: Don Emert/AFP
Madison Keys thrashed CoCo Vandeweghe in straight sets to reach the US Open final. Photograph: Don Emert/AFP

The 15th-seeded Keys had a far easier outing against CoCo Vandeweghe, breaking the No20 seed in her first two service games and winning 20 of the first 24 points overall. It was a near-flawless performance for Keys, who won 91% of her first-serve points in the first set, finished with 25 winners to only nine unforced errors and never faced a break point in a 6-1, 6-2 victory over 66 minutes.

“It was one of those days where I came out and I was kind of in a zone, and I just kind of forced myself to stay there,” Keys said. “I knew I was going to have to play really well in order to beat her and I feel like once things started going, it just kind of fell into place.”

Keys, like Stephens, has overcome injury to make her first grand slam final. The 22-year-old confessed to playing through excruciating pain during a breakthrough 2016 season that saw her climb into the top 10, undergoing two wrist surgeries before coming back to win the title at Stanford over Vandeweghe this summer.

Thursday’s star-spangled semi-finals marked only the sixth all-American last four at a major in the Open era and the first since 1981. Now it’s produced the first grand slam final to feature two American players since the 2002 US Open, when Serena defeated Venus in the third of their four straight major final meetings.

“[IT] says a lot about American tennis and where we are right now,” Stephens said. “I don’t think I would have had it any other way. I’m just super proud and honoured to be a part of what these four girls were, what we did tonight.”

It’s a matchup that few could have imagined at the start of a topsy-turvy fortnight – the first grand slam of the Open era where the top eight women’s seeds were eliminated by the quarters or earlier – but it’s one that should finally put a rest to the decade-long hand-wringing over the future of the domestic game once the Williams sisters finally walk away.

(Guardian service)

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