The 2011 US Open was truly a nail-biter.
There were the moments that we all cheered in excitement, and then there were those times that we sighed in disbelief.
We watched some players make deeper runs than could have been imagined. But others, including some big names, succumbed to sudden, abrupt exits.
So many different scenarios played out on the stage of the last Grand Slam of the year.
This slideshow will focus on a positive aspect of the Open—showcasing the future of women's tennis.
Here we will take a look at four young women who, based upon their performances at the Open and 2011 in general, are poised to do very well in this sport.
Madison Keys entered into the spotlight back in 2009 while playing World TeamTennis (WTT) for the Philadelphia Freedoms.
Just 14 years old at the time (youngest player in WTT history), she was able to take down one of the greatest tennis players ever—Serena Williams.
In 2011, Keys experienced her first main draw competition at the US Open. She made it to the second round to face Lucie Safarova.
Keys got off to a great start, winning the first set. However, she would go on to lose the next two.
However, it was quite easy to see that age is truly just a number for this 16-year-old. Though, at some times her age told on her in a negative way, in other instances it was very misleading to her opponent as she has a powerful serve and solid groundstrokes—skills that are typically representative of players a little older.
Following her exit from the main draw of the US Open, she took advantage of her eligibility for the juniors to continue to develop her skill set. She was able to make it to the second round, losing to Francoise Abanda of Canada. She has two years of eligibility remaining as a junior.
Keys is a ray of light for women's tennis, especially for American tennis.
She is currently ranked No. 455.
Heather Watson may have come into the spotlight for some at the 2011 US Open, but she actually has a stellar tennis record in the short time that she has been playing.
In 2009, Watson won the US Open Juniors Singles title, defeating her doubles partner, Yana Buchina, in straight sets. In addition, she holds three International Tennis Federation (ITF) senior titles.
2011 has been a good year for Watson. She was the first British woman to qualify for the French Open since 1983, when Kate Brasher walked onto the grand stage in Paris. Additionally, she was the first British woman to reach the second round of the clay-court tournament since Clare Wood back in 1994.
Her greatest feat of 2011, however, has to be playing in the US Open and facing off against former US Open champion and world No. 1, Maria Sharapova.
For anyone fortunate enough to have caught the match, it was a grueling match for Sharapova.
With Watson being an all-around player (great service game, court agility, return ability), it made things very difficult for Sharapova to counterattack.
To give an example, Watson completely dominated the first set and captured the win. But, even more astonishing, with Sharapova up 4-1 in the second (Watson initially had a break up on Sharapova at 1-0), Watson slowly but surely battled back. Eventually, Sharapova was able to somehow manage a win in the second set and go on to win the third set.
Though Sharapova won out in the end, she was truly battle-fatigued afterward. She showed a sigh of extreme relief when she was able to seal the win after two-and-a-half hours.
In a post-match interview, Sharapova said, "There's no doubt that she's a great up-and-coming player."
Watson, along with Andy Murray, put the British back in the thick of things in tennis on the road to hopefully some future Grand Slam titles.
Watson is currently ranked No. 107.
Christine McHale is one of the older players in this group of four—at the age of 19.
McHale's name may not have been on the tip of most people's tongues, but it is not because she has not had some distinguished accomplishments in her short career.
McHale has played in seven Grand Slam (played in all four in 2011) tournaments, playing singles and doubles at Wimbledon this year. Additionally, she holds four ITF titles (one in singles, three in doubles).
In 2011, McHale saw probably the greatest two moments of her career thus far in that she defeated world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the second round of the Western and Southern Open, and she reached the third round of the US Open, after handing the No. 8 seed Marion Bartoli defeat in the second round.
With time, training and practice through playing matches, she will continue to develop her skill set, and there'd sure to be more depth into tournaments and wins in the win column.
McHale is currently enjoying her highest ranking at World No. 45.
Sloane Stephens is currently the youngest player in the WTA Top 100 at 18. She's currently ranked No. 89. She has accomplished this after only being on tour for two years.
Let's look at some highlights of her tennis career leading up to her US Open performance.
As a junior, Stephens won three Junior Grand Slam doubles titles (French, Wimbledon, US Open) with partner Timea Babos—all in 2010. Stephens was playing in junior and professional tournaments, capitalizing on the opportunity to develop her skills and thus her game.
In May 2011, Stephens achieved her first ITF tournament victory, winning the Camparini Gioelli Cup. One of the players that she defeated to get to that final round victory was none other than Sabine Lisicki, a fellow great server.
Stephens reached the quarterfinals in San Diego, facing a fellow player that she shares the skill of court agility with, Andrea Petkovic.
And so, the next big highlight was the US Open.
Stephens reached the third round of her first main draw at the US Open following a defeat of the No. 23 seed Shahar Pe'er.
What a year for Stephens.
Stephens sums up a lot in a quote that she made that not only relates to life in general but could relate to tennis specifically:
“I cheated on my fears, broke up with my doubts, got engaged to my faith and now I’m marrying my dreams.’’
Sloan has a very bright future as a professional tennis player. And along with Madison Keys and Christina McHale, they are the next generation of American tennis.
Here are six characteristics that are so profound in each of this young ladies...
Confidence: They know who they are and what they are capable of.
Composure: Each of them found themselves in tight situations, though we saw a little mental wear and expression, for the most part, they kept a calm demeanor, continuing to play
Skill set: At their age, they have such skill when it comes to serving, covering the court, timing of shots, ability to read their opponents...the list goes on.
Wisdom beyond their ages: Their court etiquette, interview skills and insight are not typical for players of their age.
Competitive nature: Each of these young players exhibited this attribute as they played every point as if it was the last defining one for the match.
"Never give up" attitude: They were all down at one time or another, but despite being down, they still fought until the end whether they ended up winning or had to face a defeat.
Now, it goes without saying that each of these young ladies has continued training (physically and mentally) ahead of them. They are not at the height of their expertise in these categories. However, they are much further along than most.
Though the book has closed on the 2011 US Open, there are still yet many more chapters to write in the lives of Madison, Heather, Christina and Sloane.
Hope you enjoyed.
Note: And for those who may have wondered, the photo on the first slide is that of Kim Clijsters, a defining figure in this era of tennis as these four ladies are for the next.