American friends pursue Open dream
This US Open has thrown up some bizarre storylines, but tonight's women's final - which brings together two young American talents in Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys - surely tops the lot.
Neither was even playing at the start of the season, because of their respective surgeries. Keys came back in March, after having her troublesome left wrist operated on for the second time. Stephens did not make her entry until Wimbledon, having spent most of the year with her left foot in a special boot.
But on Thursday - which felt like prom night for American tennis - they each overcame an older compatriot to reach their first major final. Keys's journey, against an out-of-sorts Coco Vandeweghe, was much the more straightforward as she completed her 6-1, 6-2 win in just 66 minutes. Stephens needed a whole extra hour - and depths of character she may not even have known she possessed - to oust Venus Williams 6-1, 0-6, 7-5.
Stephens's surge through this tournament is reminiscent of Kim Clijsters' winning campaign in 2009, even if Clijsters had been absent from the tour because of motherhood rather than injury.
If anything, though, the Stephens story seems the more extraordinary. Where Clijsters had already won the US Open in 2005, Stephens - who is 24 - had given the impression of an unfulfilled talent. Where Clijsters came in unseeded, Stephens barely owned a world ranking, having stood at No 957 as recently as the end of July. Now she is one win away from the US Open title, and one of her old training partners believes that her time on the sidelines has reinvigorated her.
"You don't want injuries," said Jill Craybas in an interview with the Tennis Podcast. "But sometimes they can be a blessing in disguise. That was the case for Sloane."
As for Keys, her whole season has been a fight to re-establish herself after an original wrist surgery in November, which then needed a second procedure at the end of May to release a trapped nerve.
There is increasingly a camaraderie between these young American women. Now it will be interesting to see how they react to the pressure of playing for a first major. As Stephens put it, "I have known her [Keys] for a long time. She's probably one of my closest friends on tour. I love her to death."
(© Daily Telegraph, London)
US Open women's final,
Live, Eurosport 1, 8.30pm