NEW YORK — About an hour after Sloane Stephens announced her arrival by winning the U.S. Open, her coach, Kamau Murray, was standing outside the women’s locker room in Arthur Ashe Stadium as a colleague walked past.
It was Patrick Mouratoglou, coach of Serena Williams. The two men embraced and Murray said aloud to folks nearby, “Can somebody get a picture of me and him? He’s a legend. I’m not.”
For now, that would also describe the gulf in accomplishments between Williams, owner of 23 major titles, and Stephens, owner of one. Still, the events of Saturday night – the way an unseeded Stephens dominated Madison Keys 6-3, 6-0 in the final, then “won” her news conference, too, with abundant charm, wit and exuberance – showed Stephens is ready for the spotlight.
The past two weeks and the past several months should delight tennis fans with thoughts of 2018, when Williams is expected to return to action after having a baby and join quite a cast. In addition to Williams’ older sister Venus, rejuvenated at age 37, there is now a young group of emerging Americans – Stephens, 24, Keys, 22, and Flushing Meadows semifinalist CoCo Vandeweghe, 25 – along with Garbine Muguruza, 23, the Wimbledon champion; and Jelena Ostapenko, 20, the French Open champ.
The task for Stephens now will be to follow up her breakthrough.
“There’s always going to be struggles. I’m adding a lot more to my life. And I’m sure there’ll be some ups and downs, and some tough times because it’s never easy when something like this happens. Not saying it’s a bad thing; just a lot more on a person,” Stephens said.
Stephens, Keys and Vandeweghe could make the U.S. a Grand Slam factor for many years to come, no matter how long the Williams sisters keep winning big matches.