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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Resurgent Stephens could find rhythm and trouble Keys

Fifteenth seed may have her work cut out against Floridian

Sloane Stephens dug deep to oust Venus Williams in the semi-finals
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US Open women's final: Keys v Stephens
Eurosport 1, 9pm Saturday

The recovery of Sloane Stephens from a foot injury has been remarkable and if she is back to her best – and some reckon she has never played better – then the Floridian could give Madison Keys a tough time in the US Open final.

Stephens' foot was in a brace a month before Wimbledon – a stress fracture in a bone required surgery in January and unsurpris­ingly she made a low-key return in the London Grand Slam.

But the strides Stephens has made on the US hard courts since her brief stay in England have been mind-blowing and she now finds herself, after victories over six quality performers in Roberta Vinci, Dominika Cibulkova, Ashleigh Barty, Julia Goerges, Anastasija Sevastova and Venus Williams, needing one more win to claim her first Grand Slam singles crown at adult level.

Keys is also chasing a first senior Slam and after ousting opponents such as Elena Vesnina, Elina Svitolina, Kaia Kanepi and Coco Vandeweghe bookmakers make the 15th seed just 1-2 to take the women's singles honours.

The 22-year-old from Illinois is a huge talent, but she looks short enough at those odds given her opponent's ability.

The final should be a joy for tennis purists because Keys and Stephens are at the vanguard of the next generation of US players.

Keys underlined that by thrashing Vandeweghe in her latest outing, and Stephens, 24, reinforced the belief when dismissing Venus Williams at the last-four stage.

Stephens won her only previous clash with Keys 6-4 6-2 on a Laykold hard court in Miami in 2015. But there was early support for Keys to avenge that loss and draw level in their personal series.

The pair are friends and Keys packs a lot of power in her serves and groundstokes, but Stephens has been on a rigorous fitness programme in recent months and is reaping the rewards.

She has muscled up too and that could help her in her first Flushing Meadows final. Most oddsmakers give Stephens a start of 3.5 games on their handicap, but the fact that she still throws in the occasional dire set ought to send punters running from that market.

Back the outsider to win at least a set. At her best Stephens is capable of proving much more of a danger to Lindsay Davenport's charge than Vandeweghe was and don't forget that Keys needed three sets to see off Svitolina and Vesnina.

S Stephens to win at least a set
1pt 3-4 Hills

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The strides Stephens has made in the US Open Series since her brief stay in England have been mind-blowing
E.W. Terms
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