PARIS, France - Reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens is into the second Grand Slam final of her career after triumphing against Madison Keys in an all-American French Open semifinal.
In a rematch of their US Open final clash last year, No.10 seed Stephens once again defeated her countrywoman and good friend Keys in straight sets, winning 6-4, 6-4 in just over 75 minutes.
It’s an incredible turnaround for a player who, at this time last year, was still walking with crutches and recovering from a ankle surgery that had left her sidelined for over a year.
“Obviously after US Open, I was just starting my comeback, so I had only played like four tournaments, five tournaments,” Stephens told press afterwards. “I was just kind of getting back in the groove of things. And I think life came at me fast after the US Open and just kind of regrouping and getting myself together, which I did well, and I started playing better and better.”
The pair’s semifinal matchup was steeped in history, with a promising glimpse into the future of American tennis: it was the first All-American semifinal match at Roland Garros since 2002, when Serena Williams defeated Jennifer Capriati, and the pair were just the fourth and fifth Americans to reach this stage in Paris this century.
Stephens looked in control of the points from the start, and she did well to keep Keys on the run, playing patient tennis and unloading on her opportunities. She grabbed the first break on offer to get ahead 2-1, and dodged two of Keys’ break-back chances to hold onto the lead, taking the opening set after 38 minutes.
In the second set, Keys once again faltered during the big moments to allow Stephens the first break at 1-0, extending her lead to 5-2.
Things got a little tricky as the US Open champion went to serve it out, with Keys finding a second wind to break back and keep herself in the contest. But it was too late to stem her opponent’s momentum, and Stephens came back a few games later to calmly take her spot in the French Open final.
“It's never easy playing someone from your country, let alone someone you actually care about and you're friends with,” Stephens admitted. “It's very difficult. I think more when I do play Madi.
“We are always very competitive. But it's a little weird. There's not as much, "Come ons" and things like that. We have a lot of respect for each other. It's a little different in that aspect. But I think we always compete well and play good matches.”
Stephens’ reward will be a clash against World No.1 - and now three-time French Open finalist - Simona Halep in the final.
The American trails Halep 2-5 in the pair’s head-to-head record, but regardless of Saturday’s result Stephens will come away with some big career wins; she’s guaranteed to rise to a career-high World No.4 ranking come Monday, becoming the first American to hold a Top 5 ranking other than Venus or Serena Williams since Lindsay Davenport in 2006. And following her results in Paris this week, she’ll also become the 44th woman in WTA history to cross the $10 million career prize money milestone.