Sloane Stephens, the young 24-year-old from Florida, completed a sparkling run to the U.S Open final by going one better. She won it all, defeating Madison Keys in a virtuoso performance, especially for a first time Grand Slam finalist.
Yesterday, I wrote an article, Madison Keys vs Sloane Stephens, where I touched on the keys to victory for either player. So let us analyze the performance of both players and see what led to a 6 – 3, 6 – 0 resounding victory for Sloane Stephens.
The foundation of Madison Keys’ game, did not hold in yesterday’s final. The only games she appeared comfortable in were her first two service games of the match. She won each one with a comfortable score of GAME – 15. After that, it was a struggle. Keys made back to back errors – one on the backhand and the other on the forehand – to bring up break point, and finally to lose the break point to Sloane Stephens. After that break of serve, the trickle of costly errors would turn into a torrent. The same shots that were searing the lines against Coco Vandeweghe were now sailing three feet past them in the final. Madison Keys would only hold serve once more throughout the match. This was not entirely a self-destruction from Keys. Sloane had a lot to do with Madison’s error riddled performance on Saturday. We’ll cover that in the Sloane Stephens section.
As poorly as Keys played in the first set, it was still a decent set. She lost it 3 – 6. She could have put the mistakes behind her and rallied in the second set. However, the fortitude and maturity I talked about never really showed in this match. By the second set, Sloane Stephens was playing the match entirely on her terms and Keys was already a defeated player. She just never got her teeth sunk into this match. That has to be very disappointing. Grand Slam winning opportunities don’t come around easily and this was an opportunity wasted for Keys.
I do believe her forehand has to be at its absolute sizzling best, for one of Sloane’s keys to the match is her movement and defense.
I wrote that about Madison Keys’ forehand, yesterday. It simply wasn’t at its sizzling best and as predicted, Sloane Stephens kept making her play one shot too many. She teased out error after error from that wing. I have a feeling this was a game plan because Sloane kept forcing Madison to attempt winners while on the move. Madison Keys’ forehand is at its best when she can plant her feet – even for just a second – and smack the ball. When she’s got reduced surface leverage, as will happen on the move, she misses more often. She got yanked and tossed around by Sloane’s angles and it cost her dearly. Her forehand was never really in this match and the few times it was, Sloane was up to the challenge.
Movement and Defense
Yesterday I spoke of Sloane’s movement throughout the tournament, and specifically how that movement cost Venus a spot in the final. It was on display again, today. It is a subtle weapon for Sloane. You would never call her the fastest out there. She doesn’t look like it. Her anticipation, however, is phenomenal. I am not sure Madison Keys was able to wrong foot Sloane, even once. She was there at every ball, forcing Keys to hit through her. A beautiful example of Stephens movement was in the second set. Keys hit a decent approach shot to Stephens forehand and moved to the net. Stephens, already reading the direction, took two graceful steps to her right and hooked a crosscourt forehand pass that Keys couldn’t deal with. The beginnings of a bagel had been created. Remember when I talked about Keys’ breakdown not being entirely of her own making? Sloane Stephens movement and defense took Keys out of her comfort zone and forced her to go for bigger shots. She just couldn’t make them.
This was the theme of Set 2. As stated earlier, Sloane Stephens was in her element by Set 2. She was a puppeteer and Keys was caught in her strings. She imagined, crafted, fashioned out and executed points, seemingly at will. So confident was Stephens in set 2 that when faced with her only real test in the fifth game (while up 4 – 0), where she was down 0 – 40, Stephens erased the break points one after the other in the following sequence:
- backhand crosscourt winner after coming forward and taking over the forecourt.
- Inside in forehand winner after pulling Keys far left and exposing the open court.
- Short volley put away winner after pushing Keys back off the baseline and again taking over the forecourt.
Ironically, these were also Sloane Stephens most aggressive points throughout the match and they served to display the amount of power she also possesses and how much better her control is over them.
This shot set up or won some crucial points throughout the match. The backhand down the line set up the first set point for Sloane Stephens, even though she didn’t convert on that point. It was a backhand down the line pass that brought up the break point in the first game of Set 2. The break point she won with her excellent cross court pass. She also used that shot to redirect Madison Keys’ inside out forehands. A perfect example of this was in the fourth game of Set 2 when Stephens hits a clean winner off an aggressive inside in forehand from Keys.
This was a consummate performance from Sloane Stephens. She played well within herself and maintained her composure throughout the match. A key stat that speaks volumes about the match, comes from IBM Slam Tracker. Madison Keys hit 18 winners and made 30 unforced errors. Sloane Stephens hit 10 winners, against 6 unforced errors. It really was a dismantling performance. Sloane Stephens is now a grand slam champion, and the look on her face when she saw the winners’ check says she’ll most likely be vying for many more of these from here on out.