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Fans have seen the future of tennis, and it’s Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys

‘We look forward to the two of them helping change the whole look for tennis’

NEW YORK — Sandra Montrose and her daughter, Vernique, attended the US Open women’s final last year hoping to witness Serena Williams win another Grand Slam. But when Williams was bounced in the semifinals, the two were left disappointed.

There was no Williams in this year’s final, but less than 30 minutes after watching Sloane Stephens claim her first Grand Slam title on Saturday, mother and daughter sat outside of Arthur Ashe Stadium proudly raising a glass to the new champion.

“Venus and Serena Williams opened the door for this to happen,” said Sandra Montrose, who lives in Harlem. “We’re so proud of Sloane winning the championship, and Madison [Keys] getting this far. We look forward to the two of them helping change the whole look for tennis.”

Whether you want to tag it #BlackGirlsRock or #BlackGirlMagic, the 2017 version of the US Open has ushered in a change of complexion for American women’s tennis. Saturday’s final was the first time that a Grand Slam event featured two African-American women not named Williams.

Three of the four American semifinalists were women of color (Stephens, Keys and Venus Williams). With the long-known talent of Stephens, 24, and Keys, 22, finally ascending to championship levels as the Williams sisters reach the final chapters of their Hall of Fame careers, it appears women of color will continue to have a prominent place in the sport.

“I introduced tennis to my niece, who’s 11, and seeing these role models is important because there haven’t been a lot of people who look like her to get excited about,” said Caroline Lovelace of New York. “I want my niece to be inspired by Sloane and Madison, just like the two of them were inspired by the Williams sisters.”

The cultural significance of the final was a major reason for Alexandra Clark to bring her two tennis-playing daughters, Sumaya, 9, and Anissa, 5, to Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I think it’s super important for them to have role models in the sport that look like them because we don’t have that many,” said Clark, who lives in New York. “Whenever I can share a moment that can help have an impact on their lives, I try to do it.”

That’s exactly why Toson Bartlett from the Bronx brought his 9-year-old daughter, Tionne, to the final. Bartlett was never really a tennis fan until he began working at the US Open two years ago. He began to appreciate the sport once he saw it live and is hoping that watching Saturday’s match has the same impact on his daughter.

“She’s not really into tennis, but she’s an all-around sports fan,” Bartlett said. “These women are showing the growth and opportunity that’s available in sports where there hasn’t been a lot of diversity.”

Like Bartlett’s daughter, Sandra Montrose wasn’t really a fan of tennis outside of following the Williams sisters. “I enjoyed watching them,” she said. “But I couldn’t tell you about either ‘love’ or a set.”

That began to change when her daughter three years ago issued a challenge, promising her mother that she would take her to the US Open if she learned more about the sport.

Now Sandra’s a fully invested fan of tennis, which is sure to continue with the growth of Stephens and Keys.

“To be here again, and to witness Stephens winning, means everything,” Montrose said. “I’m just so thankful to see Stephens win, and I’m thankful for my daughter for bringing me here.”

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.