The USA’s Sloane Stephens looked unbelievably comfortable on Saturday at her first Grand Slam final. Stephens easily beat her close friend Maddison Keys 6-3, 6-0 to win the U.S. Open on Saturday, capping a remarkably rapid rise after sitting out 11 months because of foot surgery.
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.
Congratulations. Remarkable performance tonight. To think you would be here with this trophy in front of you six, eight months ago, and obviously to have the opportunity to play your good friend out there, talk about the probabilities of that and how you would have thought that six or eight months ago.
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah, definitely I didn’t, when I had surgery, I was not thinking that I would be anywhere near a US Open title. Nor did I think I was going to be anywhere near the top 100. I was worried about my protected ranking, and I was worried about using my protected ranking to get in here. I used both of them already for Grand Slams and tournaments and to be able to play. I was thinking about all the wrong things.
Once I kind of let that go and just realized that whatever is meant to be is going to be, that I worked hard to get here and, you know, that’s that, then I think a lot of that stress was relieved and I was able to just play free and run and compete and just get out there and get after it every match.
I mean, there is no words to describe how I got here, the process it took or anything like that, because if you told someone this story, they’d be, like, That’s insane.
I’m just happy to be here.
Q. Maddie confessed that her nerves got the best of her. How nervous were you before the match as you went on the court and how quickly could you tell that she was nervous?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I was just trying to focus on myself. I was extremely nervous before I went on the court. My coach was like, Just breathe, take deep breaths. You know, like, You’ll be fine. Once I got out there, I felt better.
Nervous or not, her being nervous, me being nervous, we’re going to have to compete on matter what. We’re going to have to play.
I was just fortunate enough to hold it together a little bit longer, and I just went out and completed and ran after every ball. That’s all I focused on.
Q. Coming back from the surgery, when you were first able to just start swinging a racquet, was it difficult or discouraging at that time? Was the thought that this is going to be a long road back?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah, of course. I mean, I had surgery. I was nonweight-bearing for 16 weeks, so I couldn’t walk, put no pressure on my foot. I had on a peg leg, on crutches. Yeah, I don’t think — there is no positive to not being able to walk and not being on one leg. That’s not fun for anyone.
So I think I took it all in stride and I just tried to stay as positive as I could, knowing that one day I’d be playing again and things were going to be better. But that’s all I really had to look forward to was just being able to get on the court again.
Q. When you were a kid, did you ever imagine this Grand Slam moment and what it would be like, and did any of it meet the same dream that you saw, all that ceremony and all that?
SLOANE STEPHENS: No. I mean, I obviously knew that I always wanted to be here. I always wanted to win a Grand Slam. I think that’s everyone’s goal, everyone’s dream.
Did I know it would be like this after not playing tennis for however many months, being off for 11 months? I didn’t think it would be now. But I worked hard and it was there and I took the opportunity when it came up.
Q. Do you feel you’re now at a different level, perceived a bit different by your peers and you may be a target now when you take the court in major tournaments?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I don’t think of it that way. If anything, I’m still working my way back. I mean I just happen to be — my ranking is a little higher, but if you think about it, five weeks ago, I was like, 900-and-something, wasn’t really a threat. I’m just going to keep going with that and ride that wave for as long as I can.
Q. Describe what was going through your mind after the final point going up into your family box.
SLOANE STEPHENS: Just like, Wow, how insane? I actually won the US Open. Wow. What a moment (smiling).
I think it was a little bit of just, like, Wow. I mean, it’s hard to explain, obviously. Winning a tournament is extremely special, but winning the US Open, being an American player, is even more incredible.
I think it was a big moment for both of us. Yeah, it’s just insane.
Q. I think we talked after your quarterfinal and I mentioned that you could win a Grand Slam in four days.
SLOANE STEPHENS: We were all, like, Shut up. Yes (smiling).
Q. How did you keep the stakes from getting overwhelming, knowing what was on the line? How did you just go out there and keep that out of your head?
SLOANE STEPHENS: No, what I told you the other day. I’ve just got to go out and play every match and just compete. Obviously I could have — at the beginning of the tournament, I could have never said, Oh, yeah, I think I’m going to win the US Open. That sounds ridiculous.
At this point where I am and the comeback, it sounds crazy. When you said that the other day, Oh, in four days you could be a Grand Slam champion, I was, like, really? Like, in four days? So it really puts things into perspective, I’d say.
Q. According to some reports, you were a little nervous last night. Your coach, under the guise of giving you some clean laundry, came up and talked to you. Did that help you relax a little bit?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah, he was, like — I think everyone was freaking out. My mom was talking about shenanigans. My coach was talking about shenanigans. He brought me clothes from, like, four weeks ago that he still had. He was trying to make his way up to me some way to bring me these clothes.
I think everyone just kinda wanted to make sure I was okay. I was okay, but I think I just had a long time to think about playing in the finals of a Grand Slam, like a full day. I was literally in my room twiddling my thumbs, like, looking at, like — I literally was looking at car reviews last night on Auto Trader, like literally. That’s how bored I was. I didn’t have anything to do.
I don’t really want to call anyone, don’t want to call friends or anything. They will be, Oh, you’re in the finals. So I was just, like, Let me just sit here and do nothing. Yeah.
Q. Are you going to buy a car?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I — no. I was just looking at safety reviews, honestly. That’s kind of weird, but that’s what I was doing, yeah.
Q. You seemed pretty stunned, obviously, after the match, but when you met your mom up in the stands, the emotions really seemed to come out. Was that when everything started to hit you? How special was that moment, being able to share it with her?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah, definitely. I think for a long time — obviously my whole life my mom has been very supportive. She’s been in my corner the whole time, and I have had, you know, a lot of ups and a lot of downs and some really low downs. And throughout that, my mom has been there 100% with me.
I think just to be able to share that with her and for her to be here — we spent the last, I don’t know, 16 days or something I have been here. It’s a long time. That’s a lot of personal time (smiling).
So I think that’s kind of how it is. So I think for her to be here and just be able to support me — she hadn’t come to any tournaments before this one, so, I mean, I think it was just, you know, a good two weeks for her, two weeks for us. It was nice that we got it right for the two weeks, and I came out with the title.
Q. You had mentioned the other day that you should be in school because you should be graduating. So do you think this accomplishment might be a term paper?
SLOANE STEPHENS: First of all, I’m totally not going to graduate. I haven’t done any work for two weeks. I don’t think I’m going to make it. My graduation date is December 14th, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. My professors actually texted me, so maybe they’ll let me, you know…slide (smiling).
Q. I know you probably heard that Jozy just scored two goals.
SLOANE STEPHENS: He did. I know. I saw. When I was on the ESPN site, I was, like, Can somebody please check?
Q. You didn’t talk to each other yet? How did you guys meet?
SLOANE STEPHENS: We met in fifth grade, but he — they won 4-0?
SLOANE STEPHENS: That’s actually really good. We met in fifth grade, and, yeah, that’s pretty much it.
I’m happy they won. I was checking the score the whole time. I’m happy that he scored two goals. That’s really good. He should have got a hat trick. It would have been such a good day. Goodness.
Q. You come out for your first Slam final and make three unforced errors in the first 13 games and six for the match. Do you think you might be…
SLOANE STEPHENS: I made six unforced errors in the whole match?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Shut the front door. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. Oh, my God. That’s a stat. Snaps for me (snapping fingers).
Okay. Go ahead. What was the question?
Q. Do you think you might be one of the big-game athletes who can handle maybe more than you realized?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Maybe. Yeah, obviously this is a great moment, incredible moment for me, and I was — like I said, I was nervous, and before the match, I was super nervous.
Once I got out there, I felt a lot better. So that was good. I just tried to stay calm and keep my composure and run every ball down. That was it. Super simple.
Q. Does it take that trophy in front of you to validate your place on the pro tour? Do you feel you arrived a long time ago and already earned your place?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I mean, I think when anyone has — I’m going to totally put this in my bio, US Open champion. I think when anyone has a Grand Slam champion in front of their name, it changes things a little bit.
So I don’t know if I have arrived or already arrived, been arrived, I don’t know, but I do know I’m a US Open champion. So whatever that means to you.
Q. You’ve arrived.
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah (smiling).
Q. Since coming back from injury, do you think you have had the luxury of being able to play freer with less pressure?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah, maybe. I think it was just the joy of being able to get on the court again and compete, and then being able to play well and compete at a high level.
I think I went from just super excited to be on the court to super excited I was playing well to super excited I just won the US Open.
Q. Growing up, I assume you saw footage of great athletes winning this championship and the other majors. Years from now, how do you think you’ll feel when you look at the footage of you celebrating this championship?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I think it will be super cool. I think one day I’m going to, like, be able to show my kids that I won the US Open. That’s cool. Like, how many people can say that? Not very many. And they already engraved my name on the locker.
Like, hello. This is awesome.
Q. You’re 8-0 in three-setters this year over your five weeks. When you look back on it, can you kind of describe your arc as a competitor? How do you compare now to what you were four years ago or whatever?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Honestly, I don’t even remember what happened last week, so to think back on…
Q. Do you think you’re a better competitor now than you were before?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah, I mean, I could say that, yeah. Little smarter, I’d say. Older, wiser, you know, type of situation.
Q. Madison dropped some not-so-subtle hints she was invited to your celebration tonight and you’ll be buying her drinks.
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yes, a lot of them, apparently (smiling).
Yes, we are having a little celebration, and she is coming, so…
Q. The trophy is in front of you. It says Sloane Stephens, US Open Women’s Champion. At what point is that going to settle in for you?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I don’t know. It’s probably going to take a couple weeks, months, I don’t know. It’s like so not real. I feel this is a dream. Like, am I just going to wake up and be, like, it didn’t happen?
I don’t know. Look at that thing. That’s incredible. I mean — I don’t know. I just think it’s very cool. It hasn’t sunk in yet, but hopefully in a little while once I, like, am able to lay down and relax and think about it, I’ll realize that I really am the US Open champion.
Q. I see you responded to a tweet from Chelsea Clinton the other day?
SLOANE STEPHENS: First of all, that was so cool.
Q. Have you ever met her? Were you surprised?
SLOANE STEPHENS: No, I never met her, but maybe she’ll want to meet me or something. Hopefully.
Q. Were you surprised?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah. Chelsea Clinton. Who wouldn’t be surprised?
Q. You’re 5-0 in finals now.
SLOANE STEPHENS: Oh, yeah.
Q. Anything special about that? Also, what’s your schedule for the rest of this year?
SLOANE STEPHENS: 5-0 in finals. Yeah, I don’t know how I did that, because for a while you were, like, bashing me on Twitter for not being able to win a tournament. Don’t know how I have done that (smiling).
We are actually friends now, so don’t worry.
But schedule for the rest of the year? I’m honestly not sure. Because I was worried about using my protected ranking to be able to get into the tournament, so now it’s, like, looking a little different. I don’t know. Like, maybe — I don’t know. I have no idea.
I was, like, literally horrified I wasn’t going to be able to get into a lot of tournaments. Now my ranking is higher than my protected ranking. So that changes things a little bit.
I’m going to be, like, seeded at tournaments again. I don’t know. It’s so exciting, right? How things change so quickly.
Q. You had a nice embrace with your coach in the stands. Can you talk about what he said and what role he’s played?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah, he’s just proud of me, happy for me. Like, obviously it took a lot to get here. As a team, we have been through a lot, having surgeries, like, all the stuff, like, everything we have been through. It’s been a long journey. For him, for me, everyone in the box, it was just a really great moment for all of us.