Stephens cashes in with her sport­ing ges­ture

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - SPORT - ELEANOR CROOKS IN NEW YORK ■ Email: yp.sport@ypn.co.uk ■ Twit­ter: @YPS­port

SLOANE STEPHENS was ready to help Madi­son Keys drown her sor­rows af­ter beat­ing her close friend to win the US Open ti­tle.

The match be­tween the two young Amer­i­cans will be quickly for­got­ten, with Stephens han­dling the oc­ca­sion sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter and racing to a 6-3 6-0 vic­tory in 61 min­utes.

But what fol­lowed was a tremen­dous dis­play of sports­man­ship from two women who grew up to­gether and have po­si­tioned them­selves as not just the fu­ture but the now of Amer­i­can ten­nis.

They shared a long em­brace at the net and, af­ter Stephens had cel­e­brated with her team in the stands, she re­turned and sat next to Keys at the side of the court, the pair smil­ing and laugh­ing.

“I should just re­tire now,” said Stephens. “I told Mad­die I’m never go­ing to top this.

“Mad­die’s one of my best friends on tour and I wouldn’t have wanted to play any­one else.

“I told her I wished it could have been a draw. If it was the other way round, I know she would have done the same for me.”

Keys ad­mit­ted the nerves had got to her and she fought back tears as she said: “Sloane is truly one of my favourite peo­ple. To play her was re­ally spe­cial. If there’s some­one I had to lose to to­day, I’m glad it’s her.”

Given the bond be­tween the two, it was no sur­prise that Stephens in­vited Keys to her cel­e­bra­tions or that her friend ac­cepted – on one con­di­tion.

“She can buy me drinks, all of the drinks,” said Keys with a smile. “I’m re­ally sad for me, but I’m so happy for her. I think drinks will help me through this tough time.”

At her mo­ment of vic­tory, 24-year-old Stephens turned to her sup­port­ers with a look of com­plete as­ton­ish­ment on her face, and no won­der.

In Jan­uary a nag­ging foot in­jury forced her to un­dergo surgery and left her un­able to walk for 16 weeks.

She re­turned at Wim­ble­don two months ago and lost in the first round, her rank­ing slump­ing to 957. Stephens then lost in the first round in Wash­ing­ton. “Even­tu­ally, I will beat some­one,” she said. Fif­teen wins out of 17 matches later, she walked off Arthur Ashe Sta­dium as ten­nis’ new­est grand slam cham­pion and 3.7m US dol­lars (£2.8m) richer.

She said: “It was just like, ‘Wow, how in­sane? I ac­tu­ally won the US Open’.

“There are no words to de­scribe how I got here, the process it took or any­thing like that, be­cause if you told some­one this story, they’d be, like, ‘That’s in­sane’.

“I think it was just the joy of be­ing able to get on the court again and com­pete, and then be­ing able to com­pete at a high level. I think I went from just su­per ex­cited to be on the court to su­per ex­cited I was play­ing well to su­per ex­cited I just won the US Open.”

Stephens was en­dear­ingly over-ex­cited about ev­ery as­pect of the pre­sen­ta­tion cer­e­mony, es­pe­cially when the value of her prize money was an­nounced.

“What? Oh my God,” said Stephens, with Keys chip­ping in: “I’ll hold it for her.”

So has this given her the hunger to win more slam ti­tles?

“Of course, girl,” she replied to her ques­tioner. “Did you see that cheque that lady handed me? Man, if that doesn’t make you want to play ten­nis, I don’t know what will.”

At 83 in the rank­ings, Stephens is the fifth low­est-ranked woman to win a slam ti­tle in the Open era and her rank­ing will now soar to 17.

Keys, too, has had in­jury prob­lems and the pair ex­changed text mes­sages, com­mis­er­at­ing each other dur­ing the Aus­tralian Open as they sat at home.

The 22-year-old had her sec­ond wrist op­er­a­tion of the year af­ter the French Open and, like Stephens, put her great form in New York down to an abil­ity to play freely.

But that de­serted her in a onesided fi­nal.

It was just like, ‘Wow, how in­sane? I ac­tu­ally won the US Open’. New grand slam cham­pion Sloane Stephens on her re­mark­able turn­around.

PIC­TURE: AP/JULIO CORTEZ

A STAR IS BORN: Two months af­ter drop­ping to 957th in the world, Sloane Stephens cel­e­brates win­ning the US Open.

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