US Open 2017 - Stephens completes miraculous comeback
Only two months after returning from injury, Sloane Stephens stormed to her maiden Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows on Saturday, beating Madison Keys 6-3, 6-0 in the US Open final.
“I should just retire now. I told Maddy I’m never going to be able to top this. Talk about a comeback,” joked Sloane Stephens on interview at the Arthur Ashe Court, summing up her joy and disbelief at winning her first Grand Slam title at the age of 24. She did so in impressively serene fashion, defeating her close friend and compatriot Madison Keys 6-3, 6-0 in a one-sided US Open final that lasted just 61 minutes.
While Keys suffered a clear case of stage fright in what was her first major final and struggled with her usually reliable service game – winning only 44% of points on her first serve and making 30 unforced errors – her opponent showed not a single sign of nerves or panic, not even on the very rare occasions when Keys unleashed her forehand and made her power count at the net. The Florida-born Stephens simply kept her composure and expressed herself, showcasing her game management skills and exceptional defence.
"It all feels so surreal!"
“I made six unforced errors in the whole match?” said Stephens with refreshing honesty in the post-match press conference. “Shut the front door. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. Oh my God. That’s a stat.”
Barely able to believe what she had just achieved, she added: “I think it’s going to take me a few days or a few months, I don’t know. It all feels so surreal. It feels like a dream, like I’m going to wake up one day and find out that it hasn’t actually happened. I’m looking at the trophy and telling myself: ‘It’s really cool’. It hasn’t sunk in yet, but hopefully in a little while I’ll be able to lay down and relax and think about it – I’ll realise that I really am the US Open champion.”
BEST. DAY. EVER. pic.twitter.com/R8ARc09Qwb— Sloane Stephens (@SloaneStephens) 10 septembre 2017
What makes Stephens’ achievement all the more remarkable is the fact that she only returned from 11-month injury absence at Wimbledon. That injury, a stress fracture of her left foot, required an operation in January, after which she had the foot encased in a large cast for 16 weeks. It was not until May that Stephens picked up a racquet again, having at times doubted if she would ever return to the game.
slow and steady wins the race... EXCITED!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/Vk52qLdJ3X— Sloane Stephens (@SloaneStephens) 26 avril 2017
Keys:“I think not being on the tennis court for so long really helped her realise how much she loves the game"
Ranked 957th at the start of the summer, Stephens had moved up to 83rd by the time the US Open began, and owed her place in the draw thanks to her protected ranking. She departs the tournament a world No17, having become the second unseeded player after Kim Clijsters in 2009 to win it. Her stunning triumph is timely confirmation of the immense potential she has always possessed. By Stephens’ own admission, that talent had been undermined by a lack of focus and by success coming too early in her career and which saw her become world No11 after beating Serena Williams en route to the 2013 Australian Open semi-finals. As she has acknowledged, however, the injury and the chance it gave her to take stock were a blessing in disguise. “Sloane has always had the talent,” said Keys. “I think not being on the tennis court for so long really helped her realise how much she loves the game. So in a lot of ways I think it was the best thing that happened to her. I’m really happy for her and hopefully we’ll have many more Slam finals against each other.”
Her appetite for the game restored, the new US Open champion has the talent and emotional maturity needed to win many more Grand Slam titles before she actually does retire. Marion Bartoli is just one of many former champions who are convinced of that. “We’ve known each other for a very long time, and as I’ve just told her mother, Sloane has a huge amount of potential,” said the Wimbledon 2013 winner. “I think she’s going to win a bunch of other Grand Slams because she’s got incredible physical qualities. They’re mind-blowing, in fact.”