In a rematch of the 2017 U.S. Open final, American Sloane Stephens once again got the better of her compatriot, downing Madison Keys 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(7) in the U.S. Open opening round on Monday.
The two battled for more than two hours, and dialed up some vintage tennis late in the third set. After Stephens broke to go ahead 6-5 in the decider, Keys responded by breaking back and forcing the tiebreaker.
Stephens would let two match points go by, but converted on her third to secure the victory and advance.
“We're friends and then obviously Americans playing at the US Open is never easy. And then of course we played here in the final in 2017. So there was a lot of stuff surrounding the match just because it's something that we're familiar with, and I think a lot of people wanted to see."
"I think today we both went out and did our best and we played a really great match," Stephens added. "It's just unfortunate that someone has to win and someone has to lose."
While both players have slipped in the rankings since they met in the 2017 final, the two rose to the occasion of a Slam event on Monday, and showed signs of their best tennis.
“I actually think it's the best I have played in a while, but I also think it's the best she's played in a while. Just a really tough first round, and, I mean, I left it all out there. I did what I could, but it wasn't good enough,” said Keys. "There is just a lot that I can actually take from the match and learn from, but also be really proud of for the rest of the season.”
Up next for Stephens is another American in Coco Gauff. The 21st came back to defeat Poland’s Magda Linette 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 on Monday, converting on five of her 12 break point chances and taking advantage of 29 unforced errors from Linette over the final two sets.
“I was definitely very nervous coming into today's match just because it's a first round in your home Slam," said Gauff. "Honestly I'm glad that I was able to get through it. The crowd, playing in front of the New York fans, definitely is an experience that I'll never forget."
Gauff and Stephens will play for the first time against one another for a spot in the third round on Wednesday.
2016 U.S. Open champion Angelique Kerber came back from a set down to win her opening round match on Monday, beating Dayana Yastremska 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3).
"I was just trying to staying focused, play every single ball as good as I can. I think that it was more for me that I won it mentally today,” said Kerber. “I'm happy about that, how I came back in the third set."
Kerber will next play Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine. Kalinina came back to beat Mayar Sherif 4-6, 6-1, 6-1.
Other notable winners on Monday included second-seed Aryna Sabalenka, fifth-seed Elina Svitolina, ninth-seed Garbine Muguruza, 12th seed Simona Halep, as well as Americans Danielle Collins, the 26th seed, and former USTA Eastern standout Christina McHale.