NEW YORK—Sloane Stephens was two points from defeat against Venus Williams in one U.S. Open semi-final before pulling out the victory.
Madison Keys faced no such test, overwhelming CoCo Vandeweghe in the other semi-final.
Now Stephens and Keys, a pair of pals in their early 20s, will meet in the first Grand Slam title match for each—and the first all-American women's final at Flushing Meadows since 2002.
Stephens summoned some of her best strokes when she needed them the most—steeling herself when so close to defeat and taking the last three games of a back-and-forth thriller, edging seven-time major champion Williams 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 last night.
“I have a lot of grit,” said Stephens, who is ranked 83rd after having surgery on her left foot in January and is just the fourth unseeded finalist at the tournament in the Open era, which dates to 1968.
“I don't give up," she noted. ”Like, I'm not just going to give it to someone.
“I'm not just going to let them take it from me.”
The 15th-seeded Keys, who dominated No. 20 Vandeweghe 6-1, 6-2 earlier yesterday, had her own recent health issue to deal with.
She missed the first two months of this year after an off-season operation on her left wrist, then needed another procedure in June because of pain in that arm.
“It was kind of one of those days where I came out and I was kind of in a zone,” Keys said of her play yesterday.
“And I just kind of forced myself to stay there.”
“Madison played an unbelievable match,” said Vandeweghe, who wiped away tears during her news conference.
“I didn't really have much to do with anything out there.”
This was the first time in 36 years that all four women's semi-finalists at the U.S. Open represented the host country, so it was understandable if spectators in Arthur Ashe Stadium were conflicted about which players to pull for.
At 37, Williams was trying to become the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam title in the Open era.
She also was trying to reach her third major final of this season—something she last did 15 years ago.
“Venus knows it's an opportunity lost because she had it,” said her coach, David Witt.
“She had it on her racket.”
The men's semi-finals go today, with top-ranked Rafael Nadal facing No. 24 Juan Martin del Porto while No. 12 Pablo Carreno Busta goes up against No. 28 Kevin Anderson.