Entering the first half of Tuesday’s quarterfinals at the U.S. Open, there was a possibility that the four semifinalists in the women’s singles draw could all hail from the United States.
Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams delivered on their end, each winning their respective quarterfinal showdowns by the exact same score line on an exciting day of tennis at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Stephens was up first, and the former Australian Open semifinalist outlasted 16th seed Latvian Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(4), booking her spot in the final four and continuing her remarkable summer comeback.
“If someone would have told me when I started at Wimbledon that I’d be in the semifinals or making three semifinals back-to-back, I would have said they’re crazy,” Stephens said after her win Tuesday. “[I’m] just happy to be playing really well and happy that my foot is good and I don’t have any pain and my body is holding up.”
Stephens’ body is more than holding up. Three of her last four matches in Flushing Meadows have gone the full three-sets in what is only her fifth tournament back after a foot injury that sidelined her for the first half of 2017.
Since returning at Wimbledon, Stephens has reached three semifinals, Cincinnati, Toronto and now Queens, and she credits her recent success to the time she spent off the court.
“I had a cast and a peg leg, and I think those were probably—that was my toughest time,” she said. “But I was at Tennis Channel, and I was around some great people, like Paul [Annacone] and Lindsay [Davenport]. I just tried to stay positive.
I think it was just kind of eye opening. When I wasn’t playing, of course I loved my time off, but when I got back to playing tennis it was like this is where I want to be. This is what I love doing.”
That new outlook on her career gave her a greater appreciation for being able to do what she loves and that is play tennis.
“I think my head is a little clearer,” she said. “Before, I was playing well, I had won a couple tournaments and was playing well. But being injured gave me a whole new perspective on tennis, on life, and just in general.”
She now finds herself in the final four of the U.S. Open and in a matchup with Venus.
“I think Venus is just our leader,” Stephens said of the relationship between the American players. “I think as a whole, she’s just like what everyone looks up to. She’s a great player, a great person. She’s a great leader.”
Venus continued her incredible 2017 season with a thrilling three-set victory over 13th seed Petra Kvitova on Tuesday night. The two-time champion won by the same 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 score line as Stephens in what was the best match of the tournament on the women’s side. Venus was just a bit better in the final set tiebreaker to book her spot in the final four.
“It definitely felt like a special match,” she said in her post-match press conference. “No easy moments, not easy to hold serve or break serve. Thos match meant a lot to me, obviously, playing at home and of course it being a major.
Tiebreakers, you have to play smart but you have to be aggressive. You can’t just sit back and hope. I didn’t want to hope…So I tried my best to be aggressive, and then to put it in the court.”
Venus and Stephens have played just once in their careers, a straight-sets victory at the 2015 French Open. No matter the outcome of Thursday’s showdown between these two, their results so far in Queens represent more than just winners and aces, but two women who have fought back from adversity to compete on the sport’s biggest stage and lead the American charge at their home Grand Slam.
Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys will be in action on Wednesday as they look to advance and complete the All-American semifinals at the U.S. Open.
“It’s been a great two weeks for American tennis; seeing all the American players in the draw and all of them advancing so deep and competing so well,” said Venus. “All I have known all my life was great American players. So it’s great to see this resurgence, and I hope it can continue.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org