The 24-year-old was a rock on the court — committing just six unforced errors — and a hoot off the court, staging a rollicking press conference after winning her first Grand Slam title in a 6-3, 6-0 mistake-free rout of erratic Madison Keys in the U.S. Open women’s final.
“Oh, my god, shut the front door,’’ Stephens said when told she had just six unforced errors. “Oh, my god, that’s a stat!”
Her coach, Kamau Murray, didn’t see this flawless Stephens performance coming.
“One of the first matches, she said beforehand, ‘I’m kind of nervous,’ ” Murray said. “It’s probably the first time in two years she flat out said she was nervous. She said it [Friday] night, too.’’
Who could ever tell? It wasn’t much of an All-American women’s final. Both Americans showed up, but only the unseeded Stephens rose to the moment, taking the title in 61 minutes.
Stephens and Keys are close friends and hugged at the net for a half-minute, both in tears. In the wait for the trophy ceremony, Stephens got up from her chair and sat next to Keys. For minutes, the two chatted and laughed.
The 22-year-old Keys even was invited to join Stephens for the celebration night out on the town after Stephens collected the $3.7 million winner’s check.
“She can buy me drinks, all the drinks,” Keys said, her voice still cracking two hours after the shellacking. “I’m really sad for me but really happy for her.”
Murray said he was worried about Stephens’ emotions, so he paid her an extra visit Friday night. Stephens admitted she was so restless in her hotel room, she pored over online automobile ads.
“It was probably the first time I went to her room after we got back from the site,” Murray said. “I had some [of her] clothes I took to the laundromat, and I used it as an excuse to go to her room. It gave her a chance to talk it out.”
As Stephens walked a corridor before appearing on ESPN, she was on her cell phone with her grandfather. Tears flowed as she told him: “I can’t believe it.” Her grandfather, on speakerphone, was overheard saying, “Just enjoy the moment. We’re having a bottle of champagne.”
“It’s incredible,” Stephens said before on the court. “I had surgery January 23, and if someone told me I’d win the U.S. Open, I’d say it’s impossible. I should just retire now. Honestly, I don’t know if I can top this. If you told someone this story, they’d be like, ‘That’s insane.’ ”
Stephens, who didn’t get back on the practice court until May, has a bubbly personality and put it in full display in the interview room. She referred to her “boob sweat,” and when told soccer-star boyfriend Jose Altidore scored two goals for Toronto in a 4-0 win, she quipped: “He should’ve gotten a hat trick, then it would’ve been such a good day.”
When someone wanted to know if this win motivated her to win another, Stephens shrieked: “Of course, girl! Did you see the check they handed me? Man, if that doesn’t make you want to play tennis, I don’t know what will.”
It was a short match but long on emotion.. Also making her Grand Slam final debut, Keys said the long net hug was special.
“Sloane is truly one of my favorite people,” Keys said. “I didn’t play my best tennis, and she was very supportive after. If I had to lose to somebody today, I’m glad it’s her.”
Stephens burst onto the scene four years ago, making the Australian Open semifinals and beating Serena Williams, but failed to live up to that hype. She is the daughter of the late Patriots running back John Stephens.
“When she made the semifinal run in Australia, we all saw how great she was,” Keys said. “It was always there. Hopefully we’ll have many more Slam finals against each other.”
During the ceremony, Stephens saluted her mother, Sybil Smith, whom she had climbed into the stands to corral.
“Parents don’t get enough credit for their support,” Stephens said.
She then told the tale of her mother bringing her to a tennis academy at age 12. The tennis director evaluated Stephens and told Smith her daughter was at best a Division-II college prospect.
That Division-II prospect now is a U.S. Open champion.