The new U.S. Open women’s champion, dressed in a neon coral dress and matching visor, flashed a mile-wide smile and raised the trophy high above her head on Arthur Ashe Stadium court, and with that, the new wave of American women’s tennis officially started at 5:41 pm Saturday evening.
In the all-American final, Sloane Stephens won her first major, a lopsided affair where the 24-year-old Floridian overwhelmed good friend Madison Keys, 6-3, 6-0. The match took just 61 minutes to complete and on match point, Keys slammed a forehand into the net, a recurring theme for the eventual runner-up throughout the match.
Stephens, just eight months removed from foot surgery, got a $ 3.7 million check to go along with her shiny bauble, and she was asked after the match if winning her first major will drive her hunger to win more Grand Slam singles titles. “Of course, girl, did you see that check?”
While Stephens exulted on the court after the win, and pointed to her box where her mother and other members of her team cheered, Keys had tears in her eyes, and they streaked down her face when she hugged Stephens at the net. The two have been friends since they were junior players, and Keys said in the press room later on that if she had to lose to anyone, she didn’t mind it being Stephens. Keys also said she would “1,000%” join Stephens at her post-title celebration party.
“She can buy me drinks. All the drinks,” said Keys, 22.
Stephens, ranked 934th in the world just five weeks ago, is now an Open champion at age 24; on the way to her first title, she beat Venus Williams in the semifinals. Both Stephens and Keys admitted they were nervous before the match — the first time both were in a Slam final.
Sloane Stephens celebrates after beating Madison Keys 6-3, 6-0 in the U.S. Open final Saturday.
(TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Keys, whose right calf was heavily wrapped the entire match, has had two wrist surgeries in less than a year. She and Stephens both missed the Australian Open in January. But while Keys, 22, seemed to labor running and lunging on the court, Stephens showed no such limitations, and used a combination of high energy, consistency and patience to prevail. “I had (foot) surgery Jan. 23, and if someone told me then I would win the U.S. Open – it’s absolutely impossible,” said Stephens.
It looked like Stephens would be confronting the impossible when the match began, as Keys blasted two aces – 103 and 111 mph respectively – en route to winning the first game of the first set in a crisp one minute.
But Stephens held serve and then got an early break in the fifth game, when Keys whacked a forehand long. On the first point of the next game, with Stephens serving, Keys hit another forehand long, and then pounded the ball into the net after losing the point, the first of numerous instances where Keys expressed her frustration.
Among the luminaries watching the match Saturday were tennis legend and activist Billie Jean King and actress Emma Stone – who plays King in the upcoming film, “Battle of the Sexes” – Michael J. Fox and wife Tracy Pollan, James Spader, Hilary Swank and three-time Open champ Virginia Wade.
The sold-out Ashe crowd cheered both opponents on, with one fan yelling, “Keep your head up Madison!” after Keys smacked a forehand wide in the ninth game of the first set. Keys had 30 unforced errors to Stephens’ 6.
Sloane Stevens and Madison Keys share a long hug following Saturday’s title match.
“Shut the front door!” Stephens said later, when told of her paltry amount of unforced errors. “That’s a stat.”
On set point of the first set, Keys hit another backhand long, then showed more of her frustration by slamming another ball into the net. Stephens never wavered on her side of the court, and she broke Keys three times in the second set. In the fifth game of the second set, with Stephens serving, Keys missed a golden opportunity to get back in the match. Stephens quickly fell behind 0-40 in the game, but fought off three break points, including hitting a forehand volley at the net to get to deuce No. 1. Stephens won that fifth game after Keys hit another return into the net. Following that point, Keys sat in her chair during the changeover with a towel covering her head. Her shoulders heaving, Keys appeared to be holding back tears already.
In the sixth and final game of the match, the two women had a nifty 19-shot rally that Keys won with a forehand. It was too much, too late by then for Keys, and on match point, she made her 30th unforced error to end the match. The two women later sat together before the trophy ceremony and giggled several times, and Stephens confirmed that the two would party together Saturday night at the Stephens camp’s celebration.
“A lot of them apparently,” Stephens joked, when told Keys said she’s treating for cocktails. “We are having a little celebration. (Keys) is coming.”