– When the Grand Slam season that ends this weekend began at the Australian Open in January, neither Madison Keys nor Sloane Stephens was ready to play.

On Saturday, they'll play each other in the women's final of the U.S. Open.

When the year began, Keys had just started hitting balls after surgery on her left wrist. Stephens was unable to walk after an operation on her left foot.

It turns out they were improving all along. Keys' gain was in attitude.

"Not being there, it just made me realize how much I love it and not to put so much pressure on myself," Keys said, "which I think helps me enjoy being out there a lot more."

And for Stephens?

When I got back to playing tennis, it was, like, this is where I want to be," she said. "This is what I love doing."

Results have been good and getting better. Keys has won 12 of her past 13 matches, Stephens 14 of her past 16.

Keys, 22, and Stephens, 24, spent part of that time off texting and calling each other. Now each is making her debut in a Grand Slam title match.

"To be able to play her in both of our first finals is a really special moment," Keys said, "especially with everything that we have gone through this year."

Associated PRess