There is still another match to be played in this most improbable tournament but one thing is certain: the United States is guaranteed a grand slam champion not named Williams for the first time since Andy Roddick in 2003 – and the first on the woman’s side since Jennifer Capriati in 2002.
“I just don’t want anyone to ever ask me about the state of American tennis ever again,” Stephens said on court after a seesaw 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 win over Venus Williams in the night’s opening match. “The proof is in the pudding.”
Stephens was two points from defeat against Williams when she outlasted the seven-time major champion in a marathon 25-shot rally, ending it a with backhand up the line that passed Williams. The Florida native went on to win nine of the final 11 points, including a decisive break in Williams’ final service game, to close the show.
The first two sets were mostly forgettable: a nervy Williams bowed quickly in the opener amid a blur of errors while Stephens buckled in the second with the finish line within sight. But both raised their level for a gripping decider that featured marathon baseline rallies and superb shotmaking over 74 tense minutes.
Williams, the oldest woman in the top 300, was attempting to reach her third major final of the season after runner-up finishes at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. But the 37-year-old made a total of 51 unforced errors, more than twice Stephens’ 24, after averaging 24 in her five previous matches.
It’s been a stunning run for the 25-year-old Stephens, who was ranked 957th only last month after missing nearly a year with a stress fracture that required surgery and extensive rehabilitation, including nearly four months on a self-described “peg leg” when she was unable to put weight on her foot. Now she’s become only the fourth unseeded player to reach the US Open final since the majors allowed professionals to compete with amateurs in 1968.
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