Every week Baseline will select a “Player of the Week.” That athlete may not always win the highest category tournament that week, but perform the best compared to their recent playing history.
NEW YORK — Sloane Stephens was two points from losing in the semifinals of the US Open. The 24-year-old was serving while down 5-4, 30-30 in the third set against No. 9-seeded Venus Williams, who led the WTA Tour this season in Grand Slam singles wins. The 37-year-old approached the net to Stephens’ backhand, looking as if she would move within a point of advancing to her third major final of the season.
Instead, Stephens laced a backhand past Williams and never looked back, winning 10 of the last 11 points to clinch her first appearance in a Grand Slam final. There, she would make just six unforced errors to ease past friend and fellow-American Madison Keys, 6-3, 6-0. The win completed a wild six weeks in which she went from world No. 957 to No. 17 in the rankings and however improbable, a major champion.
“I made six unforced errors in the whole match?” Stephens said after the final. “Shut the front door. I don't think that's ever happened to me before. Oh, my God. That's a stat. Snaps for me.”
Stephens literally snapped her fingers in front of a jam-packed Interview Room 1 inside Arthur Ashe Stadium with a wide smile across her face. Could you blame her?
BEST. DAY. EVER. ???????????? pic.twitter.com/R8ARc09Qwb— Sloane Stephens (@SloaneStephens) September 10, 2017
It was almost as if Stephens did not undergo surgery on January 23 to deal with a stress fracture in her foot. It was as if she did not just return to the tour at Wimbledon, two short months ago. It was as if she didn’t struggle after her breakthrough season in 2013—when she made the semifinals in Melbourne and the quarterfinals at Wimbledon—to not advance to the final eight of a Grand Slam since.
To say Stephens is back would be the understatement of the year.
The lowest-ranked player the American faced in New York was world No. 47 Roberta Vinci, in the first round (the Italian just so happened to have made the US Open final two years ago). Four of Stephens’ opponents were ranked inside the Top 20, and it wasn’t like they didn’t put up a fight. In four matches during the fortnight, the eventual champion came through tough three-setters.
You can unequivocally say it was a dream run for Stephens.
“It's like so not real. I feel this is a dream. Like, am I just going to wake up and be, like, it didn't happen? Look at that thing. That's incredible,” Stephens said during her final press conference, looking at her trophy. “I just think it's very cool. It hasn't sunk in yet, but hopefully in a little while once I, like, am able to lay down and relax and think about it, I'll realize that I really am the US Open champion.”
After losing to the US Open’s No. 2 seed, Simona Halep, in Washington just over a month ago, Stephens made a simple statement, while laughing.
“Eventually, I’ll beat someone, so I’m not worried about that,” Stephens said.
She was right — she beat everyone in her path in Flushing Meadows, and the world won’t soon forget it.
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