Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Soul of the US Open: Stephens Outlasts Williams, Keys Demolishes Vandeweghe to Book Finals Duel

*Flushing, New York – Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys are officially first-time US Open Slam finalists. The pair vanquished their opponents back to back on Thursday inside Arthur Ashe stadium.

Stephens and Williams were up first, but neither were at their best out of the gate. The first two sets went by in a flash, with Venus sleep walking thru the first, gifting it to Sloane with a ton of errors, 6-1. Then, Sloane was so grateful for the gift, she decided to one up Williams and gift her with the second, 6-0.  But at that point, Venus was finding her game and setting the crowd up for a battle royal between the women, both with a lot on the line.

The third set quickly became a grueling test of skill and burning desire with both Sloane and Venus at full throttle.  Neither were ready to throw in the towel as they traded service breaks and dazzling winners to decide who would end up booking a coveted spot in the 2017 US Open final. Venus looked the youthful competitor, playing with aggression and wit, but Sloane had a deft defensive answer for everything her much older opponent threw at her. Drop shots, passing shots, overheads, you name it, Sloane answered every question Venus asked. Both ladies gave their all and the match was definitely won, not lost.

It was Sloane who dug the deepest to get across the finish line,though, taking the match 6-1, 0-6, 7-5. It was a no doubt a stinging loss for Venus, narrowly missing what could be one of the best opportunities she had to win another Slam, but it just wasn’t to be.

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venuswilliams & sloanestephens

“I’m super happy to be in a Grand Slam final,” Stephens said of the win. “To do it here, obviously, my home Slam, is obviously more special.  Fortunately, but unfortunately, I had to play Venus … I’m just super proud and honored to be a part of what … we did tonight.”

Sloane was out for several months and for a while couldn’t even walk, but her defensive skills on the night were no indication of that. Her performance revived the talk of her being “the WTA heir apparent” once Serena Williams retires her racket. She was being praised as such back in 2013 when she vanquished Serena at the Australian Open. But she wasn’t quite ready … and Serena wasn’t quite done. That win only earned her a controversial failed semifinal attempt against defending champion, Victoria Azarenka, a public feud with “her mentor”, Serena, and a barrage of attention she wasn’t mature enough to handle.  Her results subsequently went south and she became a mere footnote with promise. But as Howard Hewett and Luther Vandross have crooned, the second time around is often better than the first.

“I was a baby, yeah, a lot of things happened, and a lot of things came with making that semifinal and beating Serena and having all that happen in my life,” she said.  “But everything happens for a reason.  Maybe that happened then so I could be prepared for this now.”

Time will tell, but on Saturday in her first Slam final, Sloane will face Madison Keys, who easily earned her spot by smothering CoCo Vandeweghe with relentless power and precision in the second semi of the night.  Keys has been known to rely too much on power, sacrificing strategy, but on Thursday night, she employed both and shut CoCo completely out of the match in just over an hour. Vandeweghe looked like she might get some traction in the second set after losing the first, 6-1, but Madison found another gear and held her to just two games for a final 6-1, 6-2 scoreline.

So, she had a great fortnight in Flushing, but it’s back to the drawing boards for Vandeweghe, who will have plenty of opportunities in the future to give it another go.  But what lies ahead for Venus might be a little less forgiving.  She’s 37-year-old – but she vows to keep going:

“I don’t know. I will continue to play tennis,” Venus said when asked what she sees in her future. “I will continue to play tennis.  It’s nothing complicated.”

The women’s final will be played inside Arthur Ashe on Saturday at 12:00 pm EST.

 

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