Sloane Stephens won the first major title of her career after defeating Madison Keys 6-3, 6-0 in the final of the 2017 U.S. Open on Saturday.
The thigh injury Keys brought into the fixture appeared to have a telling effect on the match, but Stephens was nonetheless dominant in all areas of the court to etch her name in the U.S. Open history books, per the Open's official Twitter account:
US Open Tennis @usopen
.@SloaneStephens is your 2017 #USOpen champion! She defeats Keys 6-3, 6-0. 🇺🇸🏆 https://t.co/EXuTr0TKmk2017-9-9 21:30:09
Both players were making their maiden appearances in any Grand Slam final, but it was Stephens who showed more composure on the big stage to clinch a breakthrough major at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, New York.
Saturday's U.S. Open final was always set to be an emotional occasion, and the New York Times' Christopher Clarey provided comment from Keys on what it would be like to face her friend in their major final debuts:
Christopher Clarey @christophclarey
Madison Keys, walking out of tunnel, on playing good buddy Stephens: "It's difficult but who better to be out there with than with a friend?2017-9-9 20:11:18
However, Keys perhaps indicated she was struggling more with the occasion, or at least the fixture itself considering the leg injury she carried in, as Stephens proceeded to show more calm as the score rose to 2-2.
Stephens levelled to begin a three-game streak at the end of which she came out 4-2 ahead, and Eleanor Crooks of the Press Association noted the potential impact Keys' injury could have had:
Eleanor Crooks @EleanorcrooksPA
Perhaps not surprising that the steadier Stephens has made the better start. Keys has her thigh heavily strapped again. Stephens 3-22017-9-9 20:33:59
It was Keys' own errors—over-hit returns and missed serves—that led to the first break of serve conceded at 3-2 down, and the same mistakes were apparent at 5-3 down, where Stephens took set point at the second time of asking.
Stephens may have been considered by some the slight underdog coming into this match, but Sport360 tennis reporter Reem Abulleil told of how she looked the mightier power on Saturday:
Reem Abulleil @ReemAbulleil
First set goes to Sloane Stephens 6-3 over Keys. Sloane so calm and collected, hit just 2 unforced errors in that set compared to Madi's 17 https://t.co/bNbBn9vkMC2017-9-9 20:55:42
Keys was more adamant on taking the game to the net as she won seven of the eight points played there while her foe went for none, per the IBM Slamtracker, although it wasn't enough to save her from blinking first.
It was in a way disappointing to see Keys struggle so badly to maintain pace in the second set, suffering a break in each of her first two service games, and Stephens continued to illustrate superior cool under the New York lights, per the WTA:
WTA Insider @WTA_insider
Stephens is in full control now. Leads 6-3, 3-0. Playing clean, controlled tennis. Keys: 23 UFE, Stephens: 3 UFE. https://t.co/CWsrHmo9af https://t.co/MxqGAKzHl22017-9-9 21:05:42
But even with a 40-love lead to her name in the fifth game, Keys couldn't prevent Stephens fighting back to protect her serve, saving three break points and demonstrating some incredible athleticism across the court to stay ahead 5-0.
Again, Keys battened down the hatches to match Stephens at deuce, but she cracked under threat of match point at the third time of asking, but the ailing star deserved due praise for her will to persevere until the end.
ESPN's Darren Rovell pointed to the gargantuan leap in pedigree this title was compared to her previous accolades, evident in her hand-over-mouth reaction to realising she had just won her first major at 24:
Darren Rovell @darrenrovell
In 7 years on tour, Sloane Stephens made $4,519,709. Her US Open winner's check today is $3,700,000. https://t.co/zhylGzc5E62017-9-9 21:22:52
ESPN presenter Rhiannon Walker provided more statistical background on Stephens' win:
Rhiannon Walker @InstantRHIplay
Sloane Stephens def. Madison Keys, 6-3, 6-0. Becomes sixth African American, second unseeded woman in the Open Era to win Grand Slam #USOpen https://t.co/J52p9oD8Xb2017-9-9 21:22:56
One could muse the result could have turned out differently were Keys playing at 100 per cent, but Stephens is no less worthy of the maiden career major, staying in control for almost all of the fixture.
Even in the face of defeat, Keys opened her arms to embrace friend Stephens upon losing the battle, via the Tennis Channel:
Tennis Channel @TennisChannel
Competitors, but friends first @SloaneStephens and @Madison_Keys 🙌 #USOpen https://t.co/RsOADQANx32017-9-9 21:42:29
The advertisement for the future of American women's tennis, meanwhile, looks bright with two of its blossoming stars, who emerged to lay on a historic final of world-class quality.