FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY—With as much steel in her game as her friend and rival had jitters in hers, Sloane Stephens defeated Madison Keys handily to win her first major title Sunday afternoon in Queens.
The Floridian took control early and kept getting better, crushing her Boca Raton neighbor 6-3, 6-0 in just 61 minutes. The two friends, both in their early 20s and close since their Juniors days, embraced at the end of a match that showcased their different playing styles as well as, on this occasion at least, their coolness under pressure – or lack of it.
Miss Stephens took advantage of the hard-hitting Miss Keys’s nervousness by repeatedly changing the pace and keeping rallies going from side to side. She rallied from double and even triple break points almost at will. A crafty defensive baseliner, Stephens attacked the net with ruthless efficiency and, in the second set, stepped up her service game. She blunted Keys’s power with slices as well as counter-punches that kept her on the baseline and off balance.
The victory represented a kind of belated Cinderella season for Sloane Stephens, who was absent from the Tour most of the past year due to foot surgery, returning at Wimbledon ranked above 900. She played well and recovered steadily during the North American summer season, and fought the best match of the women’s draw here against Venus Williams in the semi-final Thursday night.
Notwithstanding her loss, her position as finalist demonstrates the potential of Keys (who also has recovered from injuries), and more generally underscores the depth of American women’s tennis. With a deep field, including semi-finalist Coco Vandeweghe and such rising stars as CiCi Belli, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys will have company as they seek to take the batons that, happily, neither Venus Williams nor her sister Serena (currently on maternity leave) has yet relinquished.