By almost any measure, Saturday’s women’s final came against all the odds.
By ranking, the matchup between No. 16 Keys and No. 83 Stephens was the lowest for the title match at the US Open since computerized rankings began. Historically, it was only second time that two first-time finalists have faced off in the US Open. And, maybe most improbably of all, both champion Stephens and runner-up Keys underwent surgery this year.
The fact that a player, any player, could reach a major final after surgery is incredible. The fact that both players were in the final Slam of the year after coming off injuries is almost unfathomable.
The story of either player winning the title here in New York would be almost too improbable to be accepted for a Hollywood screenplay. But the fact that it was Stephens who ultimately prevailed is straight out of the Disney realms of fantasy and fairytale.
That was the word she used on court when asked to describe how likely it was that, at the start of the year, she would be holding the US Open winner’s trophy.
You could almost have said the same thing regardless of the victor.
Stephens was in just her fifth tournament of the past 12 months while Keys was playing in her 10th event of the season.
Stephens returned from an 11-month layoff just this summer after undergoing left foot surgery in January. She was walking in a protective boot less than three months ago and was ranked No. 957 in the world as recently as Aug. 1. Keys, meanwhile, had two surgical procedures on her left wrist, the first in December, the second in June.
The last time two U.S. players faced off in the US Open final was 2002, when Serena Williams defeated older sister Venus, 6-4, 6-3. Saturday's final, the 10th between American women, did not have quite as much star power, but it had every bit as much intrigue, love and respect.
Exclusing Kim Clijsters’ win over Caroline Wozniacki on 2009 when she did not have a ranking, no other two US Open finalists have had a combined ranking as low as the 99 of Keys (16) and Stephens (83). In 2015, Pennetta (26) defeated Vinci (43). Prior to that, world No. 1 Hingis beat Venus (66) in 1997 and Sam Stosur (10) defeated Serena (27) in 2011.
Unranked players aside, Stephens is both the lowest-ranked player to win the US Open and the second-lowest ranked player to reach the title match at any Grand Slam after Chris O’Neil at the 1978 Australian Open.
The 22-year-old, who will be 17th in the world rankings on Monday, has now claimed more wins this fortnight at the 2017 US Open than she had in her last six Grand Slam appearances combined. It’s a testament to her ability, her perseverance and the team with which she has surrounded herself.
Stephens may not remember those other numbers in the coming weeks and years. For her, the only number that will matter is one: her first Grand Slam women’s singles titles. And it came on home soil. Against one of her best friends. Against all the odds.