Unseeded Sloane Stephens Beats Venus Williams to Reach First Major Final at US Open
(September 7, 2017) FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The Summer of Sloane Stephens continued on Thursday night at the US Open. The 24-year-old became just the fourth unseeded player to reach the US Open final beating No. 9 seed and two-time champion Venus Williams 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 to reach her first major final.
After almost a year off due to foot surgery, Stephens came back to the tour at Wimbledon. She reached the semifinals in Toronto and Cincinnati. Just a month ago she was ranked 934th in the world, by reaching the final, her ranked will move up to 22 in the world.
“I have no words to describe what I’m feeling, what it took to get here, just the journey I’ve been on,” Stephens said in her on-court interview with ESPN. “I just have no words.”
“I’m super happy to be in a Grand Slam final. To do it here, obviously, my home slam, is obviously more special. I think this is what every player dreams about.
“Fortunately but unfortunately, I had to play Venus, but having four Americans in the semifinals, I think that says a lot about American tennis and where we are right now. I don’t think I would have had it any other way. I’m just super proud and honored to be a part of what these four girls were, what we did tonight.”
Sloane Stephens needed just 24 minutes to win the first set 6-1. She broke Williams’ serve twice, in the fourth game and in the sixth game. Williams made 17 unforced errors.
In the second set the 37-year-old Williams battled to hold her opening service game, saving three break points. In the next game Williams had her first break of the match to go up 2-0. The two-time US Open champion held at love to go up 3-0 and broke again for 4-0. The veteran was moving better than the first set, making fewer errors. She raced to a 5-0 lead and broke serve again to complete a second set bagel (6-0) to level the match.
In the third set, Stephens stopped Williams’ streak of six straight games by breaking her serve. Stephens fought off a pair of break points to hold for 2-0. Venus rebounded by taking the next three games.
Stephens drew even at 3-3 saving two break points. Both women exchanged breaks for 4-4. Both women held for 5-5. In the tenth game at 30-30 Stephens hit a crucial down the line backhand winner to prevent a break point.
Stephens broke Williams serve at love in the eleventh game and held to serve out the match.
“There was nothing I could do about those shots,” Williams said in regard to the deciding set. “Like I said, I played aggressively, and, you know, played the best point I could, and then she played a little better.
“Sometimes you get the luck and sometimes you don’t.”
“I think Venus is just our leader, Stephens said praising the seven-time major winner and former No.1. “I think as a whole, she’s just like what everyone looks up to. She’s a great player, a great person.”
“I’m just honored to be able to play at the same time as her. I’m happy she’s still playing. She means a lot to the game.”
“It was definitely a contrast of play,” Williams said. “I continued to play aggressive and continued to play the kind of match that it takes to win. Just made too many errors there at the end.”
Asked about what made the difference in the first set, the two-time winner said: “I just wasn’t playing well. I just wasn’t playing well. Those are moments where you have to dig deep and figure out how to get the ball on the court and have a big game. I can’t be tentative and try to figure out how to put that ball in.
“I figured out a lot, but she played great defense. I haven’t played her in a long time. Clearly she’s seen me play many, many times. I haven’t seen her play as much.
“You know, it’s good to play against players and you get the opportunity to understand their game a little more.”
“I went on the court believing that I could win the match today,” Stephens said. “Obviously things didn’t go my way in the second set, but I didn’t get too down on myself.
“I knew that at some point I’d have an opportunity. It was whether I decided to step up and take it or not was going to be kind of like the deciding factor. I think I did that extremely well at the end of the third set.
“Yeah, I just — I mean, it was a matter of just stepping up and taking the opportunity when it came.
Williams, who reached the finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon summed up her Grand Slam season. “For me, it’s about putting myself in the position all the time to get the titles, and that’s exactly what I did. That’s all I could do. So that’s the point of being here is to put yourself in position to win.”
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Althea Gibson winning her first US Open and this year three black women reached the US Open semifinals. Stephens reflected on this in her news conference: “I don’t think there is any other word to describe it than “amazing” for me and Maddie. Obviously, Venus, we are following in her footsteps. She’s been here. She’s represented the game so well as an African-American woman. Maddie and I are here to join her and represent just as well as Venus has in the past and honored to be here.”
Stephens will play Madison Keys in Saturday night’s final. Keys defeated CoCo Vandeweghe 6-1, 6-2. It will be a final of first time major finalists and good friends.
“She’s one of my closest friends on tour. It’s obviously going to be tough,” Stephens said. “It’s not easy playing a friend.”