NEW YORK—Quiet, please. Those two words from the chair umpire’s mouth on Thursday night were fruitless when Americans Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams clashed in the first semifinal of the evening. With a home-nation champion already guaranteed, partying could be expected.
Stephens would end up the queen of the first revelry, winning a roller-coaster 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 battle over the world No. 9.
“I have no words to describe what I’m feeling, what it took to get here, just the journey I’ve been on,” Stephens said. “I just have no words.”
Stephens had the first set wrapped up before anyone could even finish their first Honey Deuce cocktail. But then it was like the two traded places, as Williams stopped missing wildly—lowering her 17 unforced errors from the first set to eight in the second—and won six games in a row. The first two sets took just 54 minutes. The match was being dictated by Williams’ racquet as Stephens remained solid, and patient, throughout.
With the win, Stephens is now 18-2 since the tournament in Washington, D.C.
“When I started my comeback, if you told me I was going to make two semis and a Grand Slam final I would have just passed out, because that’s what I’m going to do now. It’s incredible,” Stephens said. “I don’t know how I got here.”
The third set saw a huge elevation in both women’s games, and when it mattered most, at 5-4, 30-all for Williams, she revealed some chinks in the armor. Shockingly, when the seven-time Grand Slam champion needed stability and courage the most, she faltered.
Meanwhile, Stephens took her game to new heights, producing magic with sizzling passing shots, perfect lobs and even a beautiful drop-shot winner. She stepped up to the plate—big time—winning the next three games to seal her first major final appearance.
“It required a lot of fight, a lot of grit,” Stephens said. “In the third set we played some incredible points—hopefully we make SportsCenter tomorrow.”
This US Open has shown that American tennis is back on top, and the next generation is here. Williams should still leave with her head held high—she finished 20-4 in Grand Slam action this year.
“I think Venus is just our leader. I think as a whole, she's just like what everyone looks up to. She's a great player, a great person,” Stephens said. “I’m just honored to be able to play at the same time as her. I'm happy she's still playing. She means a lot to the game.”
The celebration may have started early for the New York crowd, but it hasn’t for Stephens. She has one more match to go, on Saturday, against a fellow American and first-time finalist.
“For American tennis, there is no question mark,” Stephens said. “The proof is in the pudding and it’s all facts. So American tennis, here we are.”