Stephens, Keys have practice plans wrecked by US Open match

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Sloane Stephens, of the United States, right, hugs Madison Keys, of the United States, after winning their first-round match of the US Open tennis championships, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK (AP) — Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys are close friends who last week were supposed to be practice partners.

Once the U.S. Open draw was unveiled, those plans were scrapped.

The Americans were drawn to face each other in the first round, a rematch of Stephens’ victory in the 2017 final.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my God,’” Stephens said. “So, it’s quite annoying. But, again, obviously Maddie is like my best friend on tour, so it’s unfortunate.”

Stephens came out on the winning side again, beating Keys 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (7) in the opening match of the tournament in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Keys said she had a feeling she and Stephens would be paired in the first round. She played much better than in their final, when Stephens routed her 6-3, 6-0.

This time, neither player was even seeded for their match that took 2 hours, 10 minutes.

“It seems like it was a hundred years ago, not just four,” Keys said. “Yeah, the world is obviously a completely different place now as far as regular life goes. But then also with tennis, a lot has changed.

“I think Sloane and I have had some massive ups since then and we have also had some downs, but I think today’s match showed we still both really have a high level of tennis left.”

FEELING FINE

Carla Suárez Navarro couldn’t get too upset about a first-round loss in the U.S. Open. Not when this time last year, she didn’t know if she’d even have the chance to play again.

Suárez Navarro, who returned to the tour earlier this year after treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma, was beaten by No. 26 seed Danielle Collins 6-2, 6-4.

The Spaniard said afterward it was her last singles match and that she was leaving happily.

“I lost, but this year for me was a gift, you know,” she said. “Last year on these dates, I don’t know if I can be here one more time or not, and I’m here.”

She revealed her diagnosis last September and said she would undergo six months of chemotherapy. She returned from her treatment in time for the French Open, where she lost in the first round.

She lost again in the first round at Wimbledon before winning a round at the Olympics.

Once ranked as high as No. 6, Suárez Navarro said she would consider playing if asked to compete for Spain in the Billie Jean King Cup finals in November.

“I’m happy with the person and the player I have been during all these years,” she said.

COVID CONCERN

Dan Evans had a headache during his match Monday, something he couldn’t recall having before.

The No. 24 seed hopes it was just the heat and his conditioning, not any lingering effects of the coronavirus.

Whatever it was, Evans fought through it to beat Thiago Monteiro 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-1.

The British player reached the third round of Wimbledon but then tested positive for COVID-19 and had to miss the Olympics. He didn’t return to the tour until Washington earlier this month and had only one victory since.

“It’s just like an injury,” Evans said. “It grinds you to a halt.”

He said he didn’t have any shortness of breath Monday and felt pretty good at the end of his match, so was optimistic his problems weren’t related to his illness.

“I’m hoping obviously for me it’s not the lasting effects and I’m just not very fit at the moment,” Evans said.

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