Chicago's Huge Connection to Three US Open Finalists

Chicago's Huge Connection to Three US Open Finalists
Courtesy USA Today

This year's US Open Men's and women's finals have huge connections to Chicago with three of the four finalists in the men's and women's finals. Both women's finalists, Madison Keys, and Sloane Stephens have Chicago connections, as does Men's Finalist Kevin Anderson.

Keys Mom Christine is an attorney practicing in Rock Island where Madison was born. Christine Keys attended law school at DePaul.

Madison Keys lived in the Quad Cities until the age of nine. Her family moved to South Florida then so that Keys could train at the Chris Evert Academy in Boca Raton, Florida. Evert ironically called many of Keys matches throughout the US Open. That includes the championship match.

Keys has had a steady rise to her career since turning pro at the age of 14 in 2009. She became one of the youngest players to win a match on the Women's Tennis Association tour that same season.

Anderson, Keys and Stephens are all making their first appearances in a Grand Slam Final this weekend. Keys and Stephens have made comebacks after missing significant times with injuries. Both players missed the Australian Open earlier this season.

Keys missed significant time after twice having surgery on her wrist in the past year. Keys appreciated the sport much more after missing time.

“Being away from the game and just remembering why I love competing and all of that, I think it helped me tremendously,”

Sloane Stephens comes from an athletic family. Her father John Stephens played six years in the NFL He rushed for 1,168 yards as a rookie with New Englan in 1988.

Stephens mom was an incredible athlete in her own right. Sybil Smith is regarded as the greatest swimmer in Boston University history. Smith is a member of the Terriers athletic Hall of Fame. She was the first African-American swimmer to be named a first-team All-American.

Stephens connection to Chicago comes through her coach Kamau Murray. Murray grew up in Chicago and went to Whitney Young. He was profiled last year in Chicago Magazine.

His best friend in high school was former NBA Star Quentin Richardson. When Murray failed to get off the bench in basketball, he decided to switch to tennis.

Murray's first chance to coach came in high school. Whitney Young's coach quit at the beginning of his Senior year and Murray basically took over. He would go on to earn a scholarship and play college tennis at Florida A&M.

After a few years working in finance, Murray began working as a tennis coach on the south side. He and Stephens teamed up together last year.

Murray has maybe done more for Chicago tennis than anyone ever. He is helping to put Chicago on the map as a place where kids can thrive playing tennis. Murray started his own tennis foundation, XS Tennis, to get inner city kids more involved in tennis.

XS Tennis mission statement on their site is: XS Tennis and Education Foundation Mission is to provide Chicago’s underserved youth with an enriching safe-haven and positive academic/athletic pathway to college through a community-based sports and academic enrichment program. 

The XS tennis program began in 2005 and according to their website "XSTEF was born of XS Tennis, a program that started in 2005 on Chicago’s South Side with five minority tennis players."

One of Murray's earliest players was Taylor Townsend who is 119th in the world. XS Tennis is building a state of the art tennis center at the corner of 54th and State streets. The Chicago Magazine profile of Murray said of the new tennis center called the XS Tennis Village. Chicago Magazine described the facility as:

"Spread across more than 13 acres and anchored by a 116,000-square-foot building, the XS Tennis Village, as it’s being called, is scheduled to open late this year and will feature a whopping 27 courts—12 indoor and 15 outdoor (four of them clay)"

The layout of the new facility is impressive.

 

XS Village Layout

Courtesy of XS Village 

The facade of the new club is also impressive. It's going to be a great addition to Washington Park. xsvillage front

Courtesy of XS Village.

There was some irony when Stephens defeated Keys 6-3, 6-0 for the 2017 US Open women's title. She was handed the Championship Trophy by USTA President and another Whitney Young graduate Katrina Adams. Adams won two state titles in high school. She was the first CPS player to win a state tennis title.

Stephens has spent time at XS Tennis helping Murray teach his young pupils. She told the New York Times she has enjoyed her time teaching in Chicago.

“I love those kids,” Stephens said, her face brightening at the topic. “Kids are my favorite thing in the world.”

Murray has made a big difference in her game according to Stephens.

“He’s helped me to believe in myself and trust in my ability, that I can go out and do a lot of things great,” Stephens said during the French Open in May. “He’s helped me to use what I have.”

Anderson might have the most direct connection to Chicago of any of the three. Anderson played college tennis at the University of Illinois. The native of South Africa won a National Championship in doubles as a Sophomore at UofI with partner Ryan Rowe.

Anderson and the Illini were the National Runner up in the 2007 dual meet finals. Anderson lost his number one singles match to American John Isner who was then at the University of Georgia.

Anderson's wife the former Kelsey O'Neal grew up in Glenview and is an alumnus of Glenbrook South. They met at Illinois where Kelsey was on the women's golf team. They were married in 2012 at the Michigan Shores Club in Wilmette.

At 6'8 Anderson has always been had one of the best serves on the ATP tour. In 33 previous grand slam events prior to this year's US Open Anderson had only advanced to the quarterfinals once. That was at the 2015 US Open.

Entering the 2017 US Open, Anderson was the ATP's 32nd ranked player and the 28th seed in the tournament. His run to the finals has included a quarterfinal win over the 17th seed Sam Querrey in the quarterfinals and the 12th seed Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain in the semifinals. He now gets a chance at number one Rafael Nadal in the finals.

Anderson's run has pushed his current ranking up to 15th in the world. A win over Nadal would give him the world's number ten ranking.

Despite Chicago being at a disadvantage to develop great tennis players because if weather, the stories of Anderson, Stephens, and Keys should be inspiring to the many young kids in the Chicago area that play tennis. They are all role models that prove Chicago and Illinois can be good places to begin a tennis career.

If you enjoy this post please put in your email on the right rail to not miss a post of the Chicago Sportist. You can also send an email to AMRubenstein@gmail.com and I can add it in for you.

Leave a comment