Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys have known each other for years. They texted and spoke on the phone early in 2017, the Associated Press reports, when both sat out the Australian Open because of operations — Keys on her left wrist, Stephens on her left foot.
When their Grand Slam match ended on Saturday night, they met at the net for a long hug. While waiting for the trophy ceremony to begin, Stephens walked over and plopped herself down in a courtside chair next to Keys, so they could chat side-by-side.
Stephens beat her close friend Keys 6-3, 6-0 to win the U.S. Open, capping a remarkably rapid rise after sitting out 11 months because of foot surgery.
"I should just retire now," Stephens joked. "I told Maddie I'm never going to be able to top this. I mean, talk about a comeback."
The 83rd-ranked Stephens, who beat Venus Williams in the semifinals, is only the second unseeded woman to win the tournament in the Open era, which began in 1968.
"Sloane is truly one of my favorite people and to get to play her was really special. Obviously I didn't play my best tennis today and was disappointed," Keys said. "But Sloane, being the great friend that she is, was very supportive. And if there's someone I have to lose to today, I'm glad it's her."
A year ago, Stephens sat out the U.S. Open altogether because of what turned out to be a stress fracture in her left foot. She had an operation in January, and made her season debut at Wimbledon in July, exiting in the first round. Lost her next match, too, in Washington.
Since then, she has gone 15-2, and her ranking has soared from outside the top 900 to what will be around No. 20 as of Monday. Oh, and, don't forget: She is now a Grand Slam champion.
"I mean, things just have to come together," Stephens said, "and the last six weeks, five weeks, they really have."
This was only the second time in the Open era that two women were making their Grand Slam final debuts against each other in New York.
They hammed it up afterward, too. When Stephens was presented with her $3.7 million winner's check, she grabbed Keys' arm, as if to stop herself from fainting at the sum.
"That's a lot of money!" Stephens said. Keys eyed the check and teased, "I'll hold it for her."
There hadn't been an all-American women's final at Flushing Meadows since 2002, when Serena Williams beat her older sister Venus.