History was made at this year’s U.S. Open tennis championships, but you will have to dig deep to find any mention of it in mainstream media.
For the first time ever, three of the four women playing in the women’s singles semi-finals were African American – Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams. The fourth semi-finalist was another American, Coco Vandeweghe.
When the curtain closed after the semi-final performances, the stage was set for a historic encore. For the first time, two African-American women would play in a Grand Slam final, neither of whom is named Williams, with Sloane emerging as the victor.
It is a testament to the legacy of Venus, who has won seven Grand Slam championships – two U.S. Open and five Wimbledon titles — and her younger sister, Serena Williams, the all-time modern-era Grand Slam winner. (Serena took a leave of absence to have a baby after capturing her record 23rd major title while pregnant at the Australian Open in January.)
When the 16th-ranked Keys clinched her semi-final berth on Day 10 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., to round out the Open’s final four, tennis officials, analysts and commentators lauded the fact that four American women would be playing in a U.S. Open semi-final for the first time in 36 years.
Nothing was said about the historical fact that three of the four were black.
I was pretty sure this was a history-making achievement, but I called upon black tennis historian Bob Davis for confirmation.
“This is a first,” Davis told me via email. “The important thing is what Venus stated, that we all should recognize Serena’s contribution in motivating black women to reach for the stars.”
Not only was it a first for a Grand Slam event, it probably was a first for any WTA tour-level tournament.
But as remarkable as Madison’s, Sloane’s and Venus’s collective achievement was, perhaps just as remarkable were their individual storylines leading up to the semis of the biggest and final Grand Slam of the tennis season.
Sloane Stephens’ victory comes on the 60th anniversary of Althea Gibson’s back-to-back championships in the United States and at Wimbledon. Click here to learn more.
In the amped-up conversation preceding the tournament, Madison and Sloane were considered dark horse contenders at best. Both began the 2017 season on the injured list and had only recently returned to playing at a level that had them pegged as potential No. 1 contenders.
Madison, 22, was out the first two months following wrist surgery. After a scratchy few months that included first-round losses in Rome and Madrid and second-round exits at the French Open and Wimbledon, Madison began to find her form a couple of weeks before the U.S. Open. She won the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, knocking out the 2017 Wimbledon champion and WTA No. 1 Garbine Muguruza in the semi-finals.