Sloane Stephens reached her first Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open at the expense of seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, who was hoping to play in a third major final this season.
Stephens, who sat out 11 months with a left foot stress fracture until this year’s Wimbledon, captured a 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 win in a 2-hour, 7-minute semifinal victory over Williams on Thursday night.
Stephens’ win guarantees there will be a newly minted Grand Slam champion on Saturday. She’ll face 15th seed Madison Keys in an all-American final.
“I have no words to describe what it took, what I’m feeling, the journey I took to get here,” said the 24-year-old Stephens, who wiped away a few tears after the match. “I have no idea (how I got here). Your guess is just as good as mine."
When Williams, the 2000 and ’01 champion here, walked off the court following the match, Stephens stood up and applauded her out of the arena.
Williams was asked if it's any consolation that the three other semifinalists have looked up to her and credit her with inspiration.
"Well, to be honest, I'm definitely here to win my matches, not for consolations. That definitely sums it up," she said.
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Stephens, who was sidelined from last year’s Olympics to Wimbledon in July has presented as a new player since her return. Since Wimbledon she reached the Toronto and Cincinnati semifinals and is now into the U.S. Open final.
“If someone told me I’d reach two semis and a Grand Slam final (this summer), I would’ve passed out,” Stephens told the crowd.
Currently ranked 83rd, Stephens was ranked No. 957 only 33 days ago . Now she will move up to at least No. 22 by reaching the final.
She is the 14th unseeded player to land in a Grand Slam final in the Open era and the fourth to achieve that feat at the U.S. Open. The only unseeded player to win the U.S. Open was Kim Clijsters of Belgium in 2009.
Stephens came across as more settled at the outset of the match and raced through the first set in 24 minutes. Williams appeared nervous and uncomfortable, which accounted for 17 unforced errors and allowed Stephens to utilize all three break points offered.
With the manner in which Stephens took control of the opening set, it seemed nearly impossible that Williams could recover. But Williams should never be underestimated. She settled down to dominate the second set by playing more disciplined and patient tennis.
It was the third set, however, that produced all the drama, the kind of tennis that had the crowd not only cheering, but even offering a standing ovation or two. That final set seesawed between the two, highlighting how much was at stake in the match.
In the end, it was Stephens who was able to strike the final blow at 5-5 by breaking Williams’ serve at love in the 11th game. All she needed was one match point on serve in the 12th game to call herself a Grand Slam finalist.
“It required a lot of fight, grit,” Stephens said. “I knew if I stayed with it, played the game the best I could, I’d have a chance.I worked my tail off. And in the finals we are.”