M. Keys (15) v. Sloane Stephens
Two young American talents are finally making their mark on the tennis world. Both have had deep runs at slams before, and both have had their promising careers slowed by injury and bouts of bad form. Stephens especially has had debilitating issues with her feet and a January surgery that kept her out of competition until Wimbledon. Back to back first round losses at Wimbledon and the Citi Open, and a ranking almost outside the world’s top 1000, did not deter Stephens. She fought through to the semifinals at the Rogers Cup and Cincinnati. Her hot streak has continued at the US Open, and at all three tournaments she has defeated top ranked talents.
The third set of the semifinal match between Stephens and Venus Williams featured some of the best tennis of the entire tournament. Stephens broke Williams twice only to be broken back. In a contrast of styles, Williams redlined her game, belting powerful shots off both wings while Stephens improbably returned every single one forcing either an error from her opponent or managing to create an opening through which she could wrest control of the point. The mentally taxing three set match, rather than draining Stephens, will be a positive memory for her to take into the final. She hung with one of the hardest hitting players on the women’s tour and stayed mentally strong throughout a topsy-turvy match in which she dropped the second set 6-0.
Madison Keys’ semifinal against Coco Vandeweghe couldn’t have been more different. Taking charge almost from the first rally, Keys gave Vandeweghe no road into the match. Vandeweghe’s nerves, which she had kept in check throughout the Open, deserted her and the combination of a rock solid opponent and her own jittteriness spelled disaster. Keys’ tennis has been getting better throughout the Open and her semifinal dismantling of Vandeweghe showed the level of which she is capable.
The final will be a test of consistency. Stephens is the more talented of the two players, so much so that she can sometimes seem almost disinterested on court. Her ability to stand firmly in place and direct the ball was on full display in the first set against Williams in the semifinal. With a flick of her wrist she can steer a central rally ball into either of the corners with seemingly no exertion. Keys, while not possessed of this particular ability does have a raw hunger and fighting spirit which have been on full display. She is also a very skilled player, but if both play their best game, Stephens will likely come out on top in two tight sets.
The difference between these two women is that Keys can find consistency in all aspects of her game more easily than Stephens. For example, towards the end of her semifinal against Williams, Stephens was punished for starting to roll in slow, spinny second serves. Dips in play like that could prove lethal against Keys. The impact of the occasion is also a wildcard. The woman who wins this match will be the first US Open champion from the United States not named Williams since 1998. The pressure to be the first of a new generation of American talent to break through at a home slam. Expect both women to be nervous, but once they settle in, to produce high quality, lights out tennis.
Winner: Stephens in 3 sets.