Shortly after easily winning her French Open quarter-final, Sloane Stephens wanted to track down her good friend Madison Keys, who advanced in straight sets earlier on Tuesday.
“I just have to go find her, because I need to tell her some juicy stuff,” Stephens said, declining to reveal the topic. “I just went and searched for her in the training room.”
They’ll see each other again soon. The two young Americans, who are both based in Florida, will face each other in the semi-final at Roland Garros on Thursday, nine months after Stephens beat Keys for the U.S. Open championship. It is the first French Open semi-final between a pair of women from the United States since Serena Williams beat Jennifer Capriati on the way to the 2002 title.
“That means one American will be in the final of a French Open, which is another amazing thing,” Stephens said. “All in all, I don’t think anyone can complain.”
Court Both were appearing in the quarter-final on the red clay of Paris for the first time, and both handled the occasion well. First, at Suzanne Lenglen Court , the 13th-seeded Keys remained focused during a 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over 98th-ranked Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, never wavering when she fell behind in the opening set or when her volatile opponent could have become a distraction.
Keys built a whopping 30-12 edge in winners and won 84 per cent of her first-serve points.
“Keep on playing like that,” Putintseva said, “she can go all the way here.”
Later, at Philippe Chatrier Court , Stephens was hardly troubled while beating No. 14 Daria Kasatkina of Russia 6-3, 6-1 in a mere 70 minutes.
“She was better than me today,” Kasatkina said. “She was moving unbelievable.”
The quarter-final on the other side of the draw are Wednesday, involving four women who have spent time at No. 1: Simona Halep, who currently leads the WTA rankings, against No. 12 seed Angelique Kerber, and No. 3 Garbine Muguruza against No. 28 Maria Sharapova.
Halep is a three-time Grand Slam runner-up, including in Paris in 2014 and last year; Kerber is a two-time major champ elsewhere; Muguruza won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017; and Sharapova owns five Grand Slam titles, including at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014.
Quite a quartet.
Stephens, 23, and Keys, 25, will quickly approach that sort of status if they maintain the form they’ve shown lately.
Their matchup provides a contrast in styles: Keys is a big hitter whose serves and forehands are the keys to her success; Stephens covers every inch of the court as well as anyone.
Stephens has won both head-to-head encounters, including the Grand Slam final debut for each at New York in September.
“Honestly,” Keys said, “the [U.S.] Open feels like it was 12 years ago, at this point. I obviously rely on what I learned there and how to manage my emotions and manage the moment.”
Now one will get to play in her second major title match.
Until the moment they step into the main stadium at Roland Garros for Thursday’s semi-final, both promised, there will be no awkwardness between them.
“Everything will be normal,” Stephens said. “And then when we get on the court, it’s time to compete. It’s ‘go time.’ Until then, we’re the same girls, as always.”