In a women’s draw that saw the defending champion eliminated in the first round, only two Top 10 seeds reach the quarters and no Top 8 seeds advance to the semis, Day 11 delivered a final that made perfect sense: unseeded Sloane Stephens versus No. 15 Madison Keys.
In Open era history, only once had there been a final featuring two lower-seeded players: 2015, when No. 26 Flavia Pennetta defeated unseeded Roberta Vinci in an all-Italian final.
Two years later, it was all-American.
Six weeks prior to the Open, Stephens was No. 957 in the world, her ranking having plummeted following foot surgery that necessitated an 11-month layoff. Keys, meantime, dropped out of the Top 20 after two left wrist procedures nearly derailed a season she only got back on track during the summer's US Open Series.
But both were in fine form on this second Thursday, playing in two wildly different matches.
Stephens defeated Venus Williams in the first match, outlasting the seven-time Grand Slam singles champion in a topsy-turvy affair, 6-1, 0-6, 7-5. At 30-30, down 5-4 in the final set and two points from defeat, Stephens hit one of the best shots of the tournament, a flat-footed, down-the-line backhand that sizzled past a stunned Venus. Stephens won the game on the next point. And at 5-5, she executed a perfectly placed drop shot on the dead run, going on to break Venus at love to go up 6-5. She served it out in the next game.
Keys, meantime, was dominant. Playing her fourth consecutive night match, the 22-year-old was nearly flawless – 25 winners to nine unforced errors – turning what was expected to be a taut tilt into a lopsided affair, dismissing friend and countrywoman Coco Vandeweghe, 6-1, 6-2, to advance to her first Grand Slam final.