Stephens routs Keys for US Open title

Sloane Stephens, sidelined for 11 months by a left foot injury until returning in July, captured her first Grand Slam title by routing fellow American Madison Keys 6-3, 6-0 in the US Open Women’s singles final, thus becoming only the second unseeded woman to win the tournament in the Open era, which began in 1968.

Stephens took a $3.7 million (3.07 million euros) top prize from the biggest victory of her career, pitted against one of her closest friends in the first all-US final since 2002 on the New York hardcourts.

Stephens' remarkably rapid rise from a ranking of 957th in early August to U.S. Open champion began with the slow work of coming back from surgery on her left foot.

"I mean, there is no words to describe how I got here — the process it took or anything like that," Stephens said, "because if you told someone this story, they'd be, like, 'That's insane.'"

After the operation in January, Stephens couldn't walk for a month. It wasn't until May that she would get back onto a tennis court — and even then she was off her feet, plopped on a wood table at a practice facility at UCLA while aiming her racket at balls tossed by her coach, Kamau Murray. From there, Murray said, Stephens progressed to sitting while rolling around on an armless office chair. Two weeks later, Stephens finally was able to stand in place while working on her swing. Another two weeks, and she was allowed to move.

"Definitely," Murray said, "not fun for her."

Nor was it all that fun to face a pal with so much at stake. Stephens, 24, and Keys, 22, have known each other for about a decade, first as juniors, then on tour and as U.S. Fed Cup and Olympic teammates. They texted and spoke on the phone early in 2017, when both sat out the Australian Open because of injuries — Keys had surgery on her left wrist during the offseason, then again in June.

When the match ended after only 61 minutes, with Stephens claiming the last eight games, they met at the net for a long hug. While waiting for the trophy ceremony to begin, Stephens walked over and plopped herself down in a courtside chair next to Keys, so they could chat side-by-side.

Presented with the winner's check, Stephens said, 'That's a lot of money. Wow," but then handed the check envelope to best pal Keys and they both took hold of the winner's trophy.

"Maddie is my best friend on tour," Stephens said. "I told her I wished there could have been a draw. I'm going to support her no matter what and she's going to support me no matter what.

"To stand here with her today is incredible -- that's what really friendship is."


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