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2018 French Open

A rematch we’ve been waiting on: Madison Keys vs. Sloane Stephens

It’s in the French Open semifinal Thursday

After foot surgery early last year and an improbable run that led to the US Open tennis championship in September, the rest of 2017 didn’t end particularly well for Sloane Stephens. She failed to win a match for the rest of the year after winning her first major, which led tennis analyst Chris Evert to “question whether she has a burning desire to win more Grand Slams or be No. 1.”

The answer to those questions, with Stephens looking to reach her second Grand Slam final, is yes and yes.

For the opportunity to win her second major, Stephens, who last year became the fourth African-American woman to win a Grand Slam title, will have to overcome the woman whom she beat in the final of last year’s US Open, Madison Keys. The two African-American women, who happen to be good friends, face each other in a French Open semifinal on Thursday.

The Stephens/Keys match is the first All-American women’s semifinal at the French Open since 2002, when Serena Williams beat Jennifer Capriati en route to winning the first of four straight Grand Slam singles titles. And, of course, it’s a rematch of last year’s US Open, where Stephens beat Keys in straight sets (6-3, 6-0), walking away with the biggest paycheck of her career: $3.7 million.

“I’m super excited,” said Stephens, the No. 10 seed, during a postmatch television interview after Tuesday’s easy quarterfinal win over Daria Kasatkina (6-3, 6-1). “Every time I get to play Maddy is great. Another opportunity for the both of us. Two Americans in the semifinals — I think we’re doing pretty good.”

Madison Keys of the U.S. celebrates winning her quarterfinal match of the French Open tennis tournament against Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva in two sets 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris on Tuesday.

Keys, ranked 13th in the world, hasn’t dropped a set in reaching the semifinals. At 23, she is the youngest American to reach the French Open semifinals since 21-year-old Serena Williams in 2003.

This French Open journey for Keys includes a win over Naomi Osaka, the No. 21 player in the world who won her first career title at Indian Wells, California, in March. Keys has been one of the most consistent players on the tour, reaching the quarterfinals in three straight majors. (She lost in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open to Angelique Kerber in straight sets.)

Stephens on Monday will become the No. 1 American in the WTA rankings, a position that only three players — Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Bethanie Mattek-Sands — have held since Jan. 29, 2007.

She’s dropped only one set in the tournament, which came in a tough third-round win over Camila Giorgi (4-6, 6-1, 8-6) when Stephens survived being down a break three times in the final set. That win avenged a straight-sets loss to Giorgi in the Apia International tournament in Sydney on Jan. 7, a week before she was eliminated from the Australian Open in her first match.

Those losses in Sydney and Melbourne, which extended her losing streak to six matches, seemed to justify Evert’s criticism at the start of the year. Since then, Stephens has gone 21-5 in matches, including wins over three top-10 opponents in winning the Miami Open and the $1.3 million top prize in March.

This is the third head-to-head meeting between the two, with Stephens winning both matches, including the final of last year’s US Open and a round-of-64 match in the 2015 Miami Masters (6-4, 6-2).

This is also the deepest run in the French Open for both Stephens and Keys, who said their friendship won’t cause any weirdness leading up to their match.

“When we get on the court it’s time to compete, but before that we’re not going to get weird and awkward and make it weird for each other,” Stephens said during her news conference after Tuesday’s win. “Everything will be normal.”

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at Andscape. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright and watching the Knicks play a MEANINGFUL NBA game in June.