Sloane Stephens is one win away from her first career major title following her 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 victory over Venus Williams in the U.S. Open semifinal Thursday at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, New York.
It was the first of two all-American semifinal showdowns Thursday, with CoCo Vandeweghe and Madison Keys squaring off in the other.
The unseeded Stephens prevented the ninth-seeded Williams from reaching her third Grand Slam final of 2017 by dictating the first set and overcoming a lackluster second to prevail in the decisive third with timely breaks and clutch serving.
One monster point stood out for Stephens as she and Williams combined for five breaks in the final set:
Neither player dominated with their serves on the night. Williams tallied three aces and won 63 percent of her first-service points, while Stephens notched two aces and won 56 percent of her first-service points, per the tournament's official website.
However, Williams committed 51 unforced errors to Stephens' 27 and was an uninspiring 10-of-24 on net points, per the tournament's official website.
Williams had the advantage on paper as a two-time U.S. Open champion (2000 and 2001) and a seven-time Grand Slam winner. However, Stephens beat Williams at the 2015 French Open in their only other head-to-head matchup and appeared well on her way to another win in the early going Thursday.
Stephens broke to go up 3-1 in the first and cruised to a straightforward set victory after yet another break:
The opening set took a mere 24 minutes as Stephens looked like she was one of the all-time greats striving for an eighth major title rather than Williams.
Simon Cambers pointed to Stephens' return game as the initial difference:
It took a lengthy deuce in the opening game of the second set for Williams to find her footing, but she held serve and broke in the second game after a Stephens double-fault. The two-time U.S. Open champion didn't look back from there, cruising to a 6-0 sweep.
Momentum continued to be fleeting in the match, though, as Stephens broke Williams in the first game of the third set and fought through two break points in her first service game to seize temporary control of the match.
That control didn't last throughout the third set, as they traded breaks and epic rallies before Stephens used impressive defense and court coverage to notch her third break of the set for a 6-5 advantage.
Christopher Clarey of the New York Times praised her clutch effort:
After that monumental defensive showing, she clinched the match and a spot in the final in the ensuing game.
All that stands in Stephens' way of her first triumph at a major is the winner of the match between Vandeweghe and Keys, but she demonstrated an ability to overcome adversity and play head-turning defense on a grand stage against one of the best players in the sport's history Thursday. If she does that again in the final, she will be the U.S. Open champion.