A year ago, Sloane Stephens withdrew from the U.S. Open due to a foot injury. After learning the severity of it and facing surgery, she was unsure at the time if she'd ever be able to play the game in quite the same way again.
While on hiatus, her world ranking dipped lower than Donald Trump's approval rating. Entering this year's U.S. Open, no one could have predicted that she'd be making her first Grand Slam appearance in America's marquee tennis event.
She spent her time away from the court anxious to resume her dreams of becoming one of the world's best players, realizing that perhaps she had taken a lot for granted. She promised herself to live in the moment, appreciating the highs and lows of her journey.
It wasn't that long ago that American fans were despairing about what the landscape of the game would look like once Serena and Venus stopped playing. With Stephens, Madison Keys and CoCo Vandeweghe representing in an all-American Semifinals this year, those fears seem to be unfounded.
Stephens has jumped more than 900 spots in the world rankings in a month and capped off the latest installment of her remarkable U.S. Open run by defeating the remarkable Venus Williams - 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 - at Arthur Ashe Stadium last night.
Relive the match highlights from Sloane Stephens vs. Venus Williams. Keep up with all the news from the front lines of the 2017 US Open: http://ms.spr.ly/6055rv9k9
"I have no words to describe what I'm feeling, what it took to get here, just the journey I've been on," Stephens said on the court beating Venus. "I have no words."
This year is the first time that four American women reached the U.S. Open semis since Tracy Austin, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Barbara Potter did it in 1981.
And while Venus was the sentimental favorite, no has quite captured this year's Open spotlight quite like Stephens.
Her mother, a college swimmer at Boston University, was the first African-American female to be named First Team All-American in Division I history. Her father, who passed away in a 2009 car accident, once played in the NFL.
When she was younger, Sloane might have placed too much emphasis on winning based on her parents standard of athletic excellence. But now, after having to climb back up after falling down, she appreciates what it took - the hard work, rehab and determination - to get here for her biggest professional moment to date.
Uploaded by hot shot tennis master on 2017-09-08.
Beating Venus was no easy task. She had to fight for it in the same way that she had to fight back from injury, surgery and insecurity of not knowing if she'd ever be as good as she once dreamed of being.
Heading into her match against Venus, the 24-year-old Stephens had been on tear in winning 13 of her last 15 matches. Now, if she can defeat Keys in Saturday's Final, she'll climb further up the rankings and further establish herself as an emerging force to be reckoned with.
American tennis fans, have no fear. Serena and Venus are nearing the end, but Stephens has a bright future. It seems like the sport's representation in the United States will be in good hands after all.