Sloane Stephens tops Madison Keys at Miami Open in ‘next-generation’ match

Sloane Stephens hits a return against Madison Keys during her 6-4, 6-2 win Friday, March 27, 2015 at the Miami Open on Key Biscayne.
Sloane Stephens hits a return against Madison Keys during her 6-4, 6-2 win Friday, March 27, 2015 at the Miami Open on Key Biscayne. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Madison Keys, 20, vs. Sloane Stephens, 22, was labeled as a “next generation” match for U.S. women’s tennis.

The match would be a look into the future. It would give some insight on two of the players who might take over when the name Williams, as in Serena and Venus, starts to fade.

Unfortunately, the match on Stadium Court in the Miami Open on Friday did not provide much insight and most certainly it provided little drama as Keys could not find any semblance of her form against Stephens and lost 6-4, 6-2.

Keys was completely out of sorts and off-kilter, hitting numerous balls long, into the net and wide. There was a purple court across the net from her, but she didn’t seem to notice as she frustrated herself by committing 37 unforced errors.

Before the match, tennis legend and current commentator Chris Evert sounded certain when she said of Keys, “I think she can be the best in the world. She has the potential to be No. 1 and win Grand Slams.”

After the match, the only certain thing was that Keys, ranked 18th in the world, would not win the Miami Open.

A smiling Stephens, ranked 45th, was happy but not ecstatic over her victory.

“Obviously, the conditions were tough,” Stephens said, referring to the wind. “I was just happy to get out with the win. I was pleased with myself.”

Stephens, admittedly coming off a sub-par 2014 season, is starting to see a glimmer of her old self that at one point had her ranked No. 11 in the world.

Of 2014, she said, “It was tough on me, but things happen, ups and downs. I was just happy to get through it.”

In the tournament preceding the Miami Open, at Indian Wells in California, Stephens won her first three matches and in the fourth round won the first set against world No. 1 Serena Williams before losing.

“I was pleased to get out with a couple of wins there,” she said of Indian Wells, “and playing much better and competing. Coming into here it felt better because I had a lot of matches under my belt.”

Against Keys, Stephens was never in trouble. In the first set, Stephens jumped to a 3-1 lead and went on to take a 6-4 lead. In the second set, Stephens was up 5-0 before closing out the match 6-2.

Did Stephens think the victory would come that easily.

“I’m not a psychic,” she quickly responded.

Keys was pleasant and not morose as she tried to explain what went wrong in the match, not fully knowing herself.

“Just one of those days where I didn’t quite have the feeling, couldn’t really find it,” Keys said. “It kind of got away from me.”

Keys, who spends much of her time in South Florida as Stephens does, said she might even learn something from the match and Stephens — at least she hopes to. She pointed to Stephens’ two years of more experience in the tennis spotlight.

“I think experience is a huge thing in this game,” Keys said, “so hopefully I can just put my head down and experience it all, learn from it and just keep getting better.”

When she was down 0-5 in the second set, Keys was in tears for a few seconds.

“It’s like you’re having a really terrible day, but for me my terrible day is in front of hundreds of people and then broadcast on TV,” Keys said. “That’s not always fun.”

What will Keys do to dismiss thoughts of Friday’s solid loss?

“I might go to the beach Saturday and take a day off,” she said. “Then I’ll start over again on Sunday.”

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