Sloane Stephens def Venus Williams 61 06 75
For the first time in 36-years, the 2017 US Open Semifinals were an all-American affair in Flushing. The last time this happened was in 1981, when defending US Open Champion Chris Evert fell to Martina Navratilova. Tracy Austin defeated Connecticut’s Barbara Potter, then won her second US Open and 5th Major title, out-playing Navratilova in the Final.
Venus’ magical season
Thursday night, 2-time US Open Champion Venus Williams hoped to cap a remarkable year at the Slams. She reached the Final in Australia, where she fell to pregnant sister Serena. At Roland Garros, she was one of the last 16. In July, she reached the Wimbledon Final for the 9th time. 2017 has clearly been her best season since the Sjogren’s Syndrome diagnosis six years ago in New York. How poetic would it be to see her earn her 3rd US Open and 8th career Major title, 20 years after her first appearance in Arthur Ashe Stadium?
Sloane’s season is in its infancy
Sloane’s season has, more or less, just begun – but her comeback story is impressive, as well. She had foot surgery in January and spent most of the season creating content for Tennis Channel. Sloane finally returned to the tour in June, and last month, reached the Toronto Semifinals as an unseeded player. She backed it up with a Semifinal run in Cincinnati. Then last week, she upset World #10 Dominika Cibulkova en-route to her first-ever US Open Semifinal appearance. That’s a confident return in a short period of time.
Let’s not sugar-coat it
Thursday night’s first Semifinal was a complete mess. The stats accurately tell the story. The match featured 10 breaks of serve. Sloane grabbed the first two breaks in set-1, earning it in just 24-minutes. Venus answered with three breaks and six consecutive games in set-2. The decider was underway before the match hit the hour mark, and Sloane started the 3rd with break #6. The two would trade breaks twice more before Sloane secured the win on her racquet, 7-5.
Overall, Venus converted 5 of 14 break opportunities, Sloane 5 of 12. Venus launched 28 winners to Sloane’s 17. The most telling stat: Venus’ 51 unforced errors, compared to Sloane’s 27. That was the difference. Venus knew she needed to take chances against a suddenly consistent and solidly defensive Stephens. She simply missed too many balls. But let’s be honest, to go 20-4 at the Slams in a single season…at 37-years-old. That’s outstanding.
Sloane Stephens’ remarkable comeback feels nearly complete
Even if she falls apart in Saturday’s Final, she’ll have every reason to celebrate. In her return to the sport at Wimbledon, she fell in the first round and plummeted to #957 in the World. Let that sink in. She then fell to Simona Halep in Washington D.C.’s first round. Haunting doubt kept her up at night. But suddenly, out of nowhere, she realized just how ridiculously lucky she was to be able to play tennis for a living…just to go out and play. Self-pressure melted away. She reached the Semifinals in Toronto, then repeated the feat in Cincinnati. And now, she’s won six consecutive matches at a Major, and will compete in her first Grand Slam Final come Saturday. That’s an amazing mental recovery and inspiring sports psychology lesson that shouldn’t go unnoticed.