NEW YORK—Madison Keys, 22, and Sloane Stephens, 24, have known each other since their junior days, and trained within a stone’s throw of each other in South Florida. Earlier this year, they commiserated by text about how frustrating it is to be injured. And yet the two Americans have played each other just once, two years ago in Miami, a match that Stephens won by the innocuous scores of 6-4, 6-2.
In those days, many of us had a vague belief that we could be watching a future Grand Slam final, but the idea that it would happen at the 2017 US Open probably would have seemed far-fetched. As Stephens said on Thursday, though, the question marks that have surrounded the future of American tennis for so long have been erased for the moment. That future is here, now, facing each across the net in Ashe Stadium.
As much as Keys and Stephens have in common as people, they present a classic contrast in styles as players. Keys is an attacker who hits two types of ground strokes—fast and faster. Stephens is a speedy defender whose stated goal is to “get my racquet on every ball.”
As usual in a match between a slugger and a retriever, the result will be on the slugger’s racquet. Can Keys stay in the same rarefied zone that she was in during her blowout semifinal win over Coco Vandeweghe? Or will she Stephens make her hit enough balls to take her out of it?
We won’t know until Saturday, and any guess with be just that—Keys can go from brilliant to bad and back to brilliant again in the space of a single afternoon. But the recent history of women’s tennis says that when it comes to the Slams, the slugger usually wins.