A fourth different Grand Slam winner of the season will be crowned at the US Open on Saturday after Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens made it through to the final.
With four American women lining up in the semi-finals of a major for the first time since 1985, it was the much heralded next generation of stars who advanced into the showpiece, but the journeys of Stephens and Keys have been anything but straightforward.
The pair have been regarded as the future of women’s tennis since bursting onto the scene as teenagers and having now reached their first Grand Slam final they will give the US its first All-American final since the Williams sisters in 2002.
Stephens did her part first, ending Williams hopes of a third Grand Slam final of the year with a three-set victory in the opening semi-final on Arthur Ashe Stadium – coming through 6-1 0-6 7-5 and she was joined by Keys who had a more routine 6-1 6-2 triumph over CoCo Vandeweghe.
While both finalists have endured their share of injury frustrations, it is Stephens story that surprises most.
At the start of the year she was working as a reporter for the Tennis Channel and was in the midst of an 11-month lay-off due to a foot injury that required surgery and as recently as three months ago had her in a protective boot.
She returned to the courts at Wimbledon and suffered a second round exit before an early defeat in Washington left her with a lowly ranking of 957 as recently as a month ago.
Playing under a protected ranking, Keys’ runs to the semi-finals of both Toronto and Cincinnati have brought her back inside the world’s top 100 and her victory over Williams take her into Sunday’s showdown on the back of a fairy-tale run of 14 wins from her last 16 matches.
“I have no words to describe what I’m feeling, what it took to get there,” she told the crowd in her on-court interview.
“It’s just a journey. I have no words. When I started my comeback, if someone told me I’d make two Grand Slam semis and a final, I would probably have passed out.
“It required a lot of fight and a lot of grit. I just worked my tail off and ran down every ball. We played some incredible points in the third set. I am honoured to play at the same time as one of the greats of the game. She is the most graceful, the most elegant player.”
As for the contest, Stephens made light of it being just her second Grand Slam semi-final and first since as a teenager she made the last four in Australia on 2013. Instead it was Williams, in her 23rd singles slam semi-final, who made a host of errors to hand her younger opponent the opening set for the loss of just one game.
Thirty-seven Williams, already a runner-up at the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year, went one better in the next set to bagel Stephens and set up a final set that was full of all the drama the first two sets had lacked.
Stephens twice broke to seize the initiative only for Williams to show all the tenacity of a seven-time major winner and leading 5-4 she looked on the brink only to see Stephen find a spectacular change of gear.
A startling run saw her reel off a string of fine winners through a combination of shotmaking and athleticism and when she broke for a 6-5 lead all she needed to do was hold her nerve to claim her place in the final.
After the drama of the first semi it was the turn of Keys and Vandeweghe to chase their own Grand Slam dream, neither had previously made a final and it was the younger woman again who emerged victorious.
Keys made short work of Vandeweghe whose Grand Slam year is now a case of what might have been after a 66-minute defeat to the 15th seed whose only previous major semi-final was the 2015 Australian Open where she was beaten by Serena Williams.
Vandeweghe herself reached the last four in Melbourne this year as well as the Wimbledon quarter-final but she had no answer to Keys’ power and the 22-year-old blasted 25 winners on her way to a 6-1 6-2 victory that her own injury problems behind her.
“I’m still shaking. I think I played pretty well tonight,” Keys told the crowd.
“I knew I had to rise to the occasion and I’m just really happy to be in the final. I couldn’t feel better than I feel right now.
“Sloane is a new person right now, she’s really loving being out on the court again and she’s obviously playing really well.
“I’m really excited we get to play each other in a US Open final. It’s pretty cool to say.”
The final promises to be an almost perfect match-up between the all-court prowess of Stephens and the fearsome hitting of Keys as the potential of both finally bears fruit.
It’s been a long journey for the pair, who are close friends off the court, and having initially made their mark as teenagers, on Saturday one will get to crown that journey with a maiden major.