Day 13. US Open Champion. Sloane Stephens

Andy Taylor. Sports Emcee. 2017 US Open Champion. Sloane Stephens

Sports Emcee. Andy Taylor. The Voice of the US Open

Sloane Stephens def Madison Keys 63 60 (1:01)

In the 2017 US Open Championship match, Sloane Stephens came out firing. She was clearly more confident on court. When break opportunities popped-up, she pounced. Chance to come into the net? No hesitation. Keys was consistently on her heels, forcing herself to take random risks just to stay in the match. It didn’t work.

After 47-minutes, down a set and a break, Keys offered up a double fault to fall behind 0-4 in the second. Three long rallies later, Keys cracked Sloane’s consistency scoring triple break point, but couldn’t convert. Stephens battled back and got it to deuce. Two unforced errors later, Madison was simply trying to avoid the second-set bagel.

In the final game of the match, Keys got even more aggressive. She went up 15-0 at the net. An unforced error sailed long, then wide…then wide again. Down 30-40, Keys won a clutch point to force deuce, but sailed another ball wide, giving Sloane match point #2. Keys erased it with an unreachable forehand. Match point #3 came off a ridiculously angled forehand from Stephens. Trying to go up the line, Madison hit the tape…and the championship match was over in just 61-minutes. Sloane Stephens became a Grand Slam champion by winning eight consecutive games from 4-3 in the first set. That’s pure domination.

Nothing but respect

Sloane and Madison shared a long, tear-stained embrace at the net. Stephens climbed up to her box to share the victory with family. In the trophy ceremony, before Sloane received a check for $3.7-million, Madison said: “If there’s someone I have to lose to today, I’m glad it’s her.” Always eloquent, Sloane carefully articulated the significance of parents not giving up on the dreams of their children. As a teenager, she and Mom had been told that – if she was lucky – Sloane had the talent to play tennis for a Division-2 school. Today, she lifted the trophy at the 2017 US Open.

American tennis at the forefront of the 2017 US Open

For many, this year’s US Open proved that American tennis is alive and well. For the first time since 1981, the final four featured four Americans: Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe, and Venus Williams. Remarkable really, considering Serena’s maternity leave and the talent in Flushing on Day-1, including the top-4 players in the world: (1) Karolina Pliskova, (2) Simona Halep, (3) Garbine Muguruza, and (4) Elina Svitolina. There were five Americans in the Final-16, including Harrisburg, PA’s Jennifer Brady; Brady’s second 4th-Round Grand Slam appearance of the year.

A tournament of comeback stories

In a tournament drenched with “comeback stories” – from Petra Kvitova’s triumphant return after severing tendons on her racquet hand, defending herself from a knife-wielding intruder last December…to Kaia Kanepi’s march through US Open qualifying to reach the Quarterfinals, after returning to the sport just three months ago ranked outside the top-500…to Maria Sharapova’s Grand Slam return after a 19-month suspension – it was only fitting to see the two most compelling American comeback kids vie for the title.

Sloane’s renewed outlook on tennis

The reality is, Sloane’s season has, more or less, just begun. 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. Unseeded again here in Flushing, she is now a US Open Champion. That’s a confident return in a short period of time, but it didn’t start that way…

In her return at Wimbledon, Sloane 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. Results materialized. An amazing mental recovery and inspiring sports psychology lesson that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

A remarkable accomplishment for Midnight Madison

Madison Keys has no reason to hang her head. Reaching her first Grand Slam Final is an enormous accomplishment. She missed the first two months of 2017 due to wrist surgery. Four months later, she found her rhythm in Stanford, where Madison crushed the top-seed Garbine Muguruza in the Semi’s, then won a tight two-sets over Coco Vandeweghe in the Final. Here in Flushing, Keys endured two of the latest matches of her career, coming from behind to defeat Elena Vesnina in the 3rd-Round (1:45am), and Elina Svitolina in the Round of 16; then cruised through Kaia Kanepi and Coco Vandeweghe to reach the Final. Her season-delaying surgery was an annoying aside, after a 2016 that saw Madison win her second career title, reach two finals, compete in the Bronze medal match in Rio, climb to a career-high ranking of World #7 and qualify for the year-end WTA Finals.

When healthy, American tennis looks bright indeed. Fed Cup Captain Kathy Rinaldi will pull from a superior field of talent when Team USA travels to Belarus to compete in the Fed Cup Final this November.

Equality. Empowerment

One quick, interesting aside: Prior to the start of the match, Sydney James Harcourt from Broadway’s “Hamilton” performed America the Beautiful, joined by the color guard from the United States Marine Corps, 6th Communications Battalion from Brooklyn. During the performance, an all-female team of cadets from West Point unfurled the American flag on court.

Sloane Stephens' Road to the Title:

  • FF: def [15] Madison Keys 63 60
  • SF: def [9] Venus Williams 61 06 75
  • QF: def [16] Anastasija Senastova 63 36 76(4)
  • R4: def [30] Julia Georges 63 36 61
  • R3: def Ashleigh Barty 62 64
  • R2: def [11] Dominika Cibulkova 62 57 63
  • R1: def Roberta Vinci 75 61

[15] Madison Keys' Road to the Final: