Keys, Stephens seek to recapture 2017 US Open form

Keys, Stephens seek to recapture 2017 US Open form

The Americans have slumped this summer. Will they rebound in time for New York?

As the Rogers Cup winds down in Toronto this weekend, two of the players that were considered contenders before the start of the event are long gone, having suffered much-earlier-than-expected exits.

Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys, traditionally at their best on hard courts, have not had the start to the summer that they would have liked, with each of them dropping their opening matches for the second week in a row. With the last Grand Slam of the season, the US Open, right around the corner, can they get back on track to have an impact at the tournament?

So far in 2019, it’s been hard to predict the state of their games based on their results. From the start, Stephens has been unable to gain a foothold in a tournament, a year after she was in contention for the top spot in the rankings following a title in Miami and runner-up showings at the French Open, the Rogers Cup and the WTA Finals. The 26-year-old dropped her first match of the year in Brisbane, Australia, to Johanna Konta, who would prove to be one of her personal nemeses: That loss was the first of four this year alone to the former world No. 4, which included defeats at the French Open and Wimbledon.

Konta has been in the midst of a resurgence this year as she works her way back among the game’s elite. Some of Stephens’ other losses, though, have been particularly glaring: Seven times she’s fallen to a player ranked outside the Top 40, including the most recent ones in Washington last week to Rebecca Peterson, ranked No. 70, and world No. 91 Marie Bouzkova in Toronto. 

Stephens has yet to win a title in 2019. (Getty Images)

In one of her best tournaments of the year, Stephens reached her first quarterfinal of 2019 in Charleston, S.C., in April. There, she met her compatriot Keys, who stopped her charge in three sets. After that win over her close friend, Keys would go on to take her next two matches in straight sets, including a win over Caroline Wozniacki in the final for her first title in nearly two years.

It was only Keys’ fourth tournament of the year and was a positive sign as she broke her drought on a surface that hasn’t always been conducive to her game. At her next few events on the clay, she struggled until the French Open, where she advanced to the quarterfinals, a year after reaching the final four there for the first time.

Keys didn’t play a warm-up event on the grass before Wimbledon, and at the year’s third major, she was upset in the second round by Polona Hercog. Making her summer hard-court debut in Washington, Keys—the second seed after Stephens—fell in one of the year’s biggest upsets to 17-year-old Hailey Baptiste, ranked No. 283 in the world.

Right now, both Keys and Stephens are riding three-match losing streaks. However, aside from their aggressive baseline games, one other thing the two of them have in common is their ability to rebound from adversity, which they famously demonstrated in 2017.

Bothe Keys and Stephens are traditionally at their best on hard courts. (AP)

After winning three titles in the first four months of 2016, Stephens was forced to shut down her campaign that summer due to a foot injury that would also sideline her for much of 2017. Meanwhile, Keys was dealing with health issues of her own as wrist injuries kept her off the court for a significant portion of the year. Both of them made rather impressive returns during the events leading up to the US Open: Keys captured the title in Stanford, Calif., while Stephens advanced to the semifinals in Canada and Cincinnati. 

Despite those results, few could have predicted what would happen in New York as both players reached their first Grand Slam final, which Stephens—ranked No. 83 at the time—won in straight sets. 

That tournament justified the belief surrounding both of them from the onset of their careers—that they would be contending for majors for years to come.

Despite their current struggles, they’ve earned their place among the threats to take the title in New York in a few weeks’ time. Getting back on familiar grounds where they’ve experienced their greatest successes might be the perfect remedy for turning their summer—and their year—around.