Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys turned surgery layoffs into success

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Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys (AP)

NEW YORK—The Grand Slam season began with both Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens sidelined by surgery, but now, the two are playing each other for their first Grand Slam title.

And that may be no coincidence, they suggest. 

Keys had wrist surgery in 2016 and did not play the Australian Open, returning at Indian Wells. The 22-year-old then had a second procedure following the French Open before coming back during Wimbledon. Stephens had foot surgery at the beginning of the season and also returned at Wimbledon.

"I was actually just laughing and thinking, 'Who would have thought in Australia that Sloane and I would be the finalists at the US Open?'" said Keys. "Neither one of us were playing at the time, both just having surgeries."

Since the second surgery, she has been playing injury-free, capturing the title in Stanford and reaching the semifinals of Cincinnati coming into the US Open.

"Since then, it's just, you know, it's been a big weight off of my shoulders and I'm playing really free," Keys said. "More than anything, I'm just really, really enjoying my time on the court.

"You know, I think that's been a massive part of why I have been playing well."

Stephens also recalls not getting to play Down Under.

"I had just had surgery. I had a massive cast on. I couldn't walk, so I was, like, planted on my couch for two weeks," she said.

Spending the next few months with her leg in a boot, Stephens got to see tennis from other angles, working with kids for her coach's clinic in Chicago and serving as an analyst for Tennis Channel. Having previously been criticized for appearing disinterested during matches, Stephens says she is now staying much more positive while competing.

"But being injured gave me a whole new perspective," she said following her quarterfinal victory. "I enjoy it and I have a great time. I don't think there is anything else I'd rather be doing."

The 24-year-old began her comeback with two first-round defeats, but then reached the semifinals in Toronto and got to the semifinals in Cincinnati the following week.

"Just happy to be playing really well, and happy that my foot is good and I don't have any pain and my body is holding up," Stephens said.

Keys is No. 16 in the rankings, while Stephens has surged from No. 985 a few weeks ago to No. 83. 

 

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