A new Grand Slam champion will be crowned at the US Open after Sloane Stephens beat fellow American Venus Williams 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 in a rollercoaster of a semi-final on Thursday.
Stephens, who returned to competition at Wimbledon after nearly a year off because of a foot injury, recovered from a second-set meltdown to end ninth seed Williams’s hopes of reaching a third major final this year.
A ruthless Madison Keys crushed CoCo Vandeweghe 6-1, 6-2 in the second semi-final.
It will be the first time two American women have played for the title since 2002 when Venus lost 6-4, 6-3 to her younger sister Serena Williams.
“I have no words to describe what I‘m feeling what it took to get here. The journey I took. I have no words,” said Stephens, who underwent foot surgery last February.
”If someone told me I’d make two semis and a grand slam final this year I would have passed out, which is what I feel like doing now.
“I don’t know how I got here. Hard work, that’s it.”
The 24-year-old Stephens, 13 years younger than Williams, paid tribute to the seven-time Grand Slam champion.
”I‘m honestly just honoured to play at the same time as her. One of the greatest to ever play our game. She’s one of the greatest competitors and I‘m honoured to share the court with her and glad to play at the same time as her.
“For American tennis there’s no question marks. The proof is in the pudding. American tennis, here we are.”
Despite her lack of match play this year, Stephens began confidently and broke for 3-1 when Williams netted a routine forehand and then went on to win the last three games of the set as the 37-year-old strangely appeared to struggle with serve.
Williams was in danger again on her first service game in the second set but she managed to hold and broke in the next game thanks to a Stephens double fault.
She then held to love to stamp her domination on the second set and moved 4-0
The 24-year-old, however, got back on track in the decider, taking a 1-0 lead on Williams serve when she netted an easy volley.
She saved two break points in the following game but Williams levelled for 2-2 when Stephens’s forehand sailed wide.
But at the end of a seven-minute game, Williams netted a routine volley again to give her opponent a break for 4-3.
Williams broke straight back with a service return winner and she saved a break point to hold for 5-4.
But as Williams struggled with her volley, Stephens broke for love in the 11th game and followed up on serve to close it out as Williams netted a backhand.
“It was definitely a contrast of play,” Williams said of the roller-coaster match.
“You know, I continued to play aggressive and continued to play the kind of match that it takes to win. Just made too many errors there at the end.”
The final shapes up as an intriguing and unexpected one featuring two players who missed the start of the year as they recovered from injuries.
Keys, who was absent from the first two months recovering from wrist surgery, delivered an old fashion thrashing as she needed just 66 minutes to beat Vandeweghe, who also lost in the Australian Open semi-finals.
Keys came out swinging against the fellow power-hitter and broke Vandeweghe twice as she stormed into a 5-0 in a one-sided opening set that took only 23 minutes.
Keys continued to hammer away in the second set and the 22-year-old broke in the third game to ensure her momentum continued.
The only alarming moment came when Keys called for a medical time out while leading 6-1 4-1 and she walked off the Arthur Ashes Stadium court for treatment.
The 15th seed returned with her right thigh heavily taped but it had no affect on her dominance as she held serve and finished off a shell-shocked Vandeweghe in her next service game with an ace on the first match point.
"I definitely was starting to feel it and I was afraid if I went too far into a corner then something more serious could happen so I felt I needed to get it worked on sooner rather than later," said Keys.
"I feel great right now, I don't think I could feel better than I do now."