- Sandra Harwitt
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MIAMI -- Center Court here on the grounds of Crandon Park was the scene of the first meeting between Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens, a yardstick opportunity to judge how two of America's most promising next-generation players would stack up against each other.
As it happened, the match turned out to be an anticlimactic one that betrayed the rankings. The 45th-ranked Stephens dominated her 18th-ranked opponent 6-4, 6-2.
Keys was mistake-prone throughout the 72-minute match, committing 36 unforced errors. She took the blame for not being at her best, refusing to use the windy conditions as an nb excuse.
"Just one of those days where [I] didn't quite have the feeling; couldn't really find it," Keys said. "Sloane played really well."
Many might have eyed the match as a battleground for America's tennis future, but the players insisted that was the furthest thing from their minds.
"I just go out and play my game and stay focused," Stephens said.
Keys echoed that sentiment, saying, "I was just treating it as another match."
No matter. In the end, the match offered us a glimpse into their oft-parallel paths and personalities.
Both Keys and Stephens became surprise Australian Open semifinalists at the age of 19. Stephens did it in 2013; Keys did it this past January.
Stephens has spent much of her life in South Florida, training as a youngster with Nick Saviano. But with family ties in Los Angeles, Stephens spent a lot of time on the West Coast, and in the past few years considered Los Angeles her home base.
Keys, a native of Chicago, moved to South Florida as a youngster to further her tennis aspirations. She now lives the bicoastal lifestyle. When in Los Angeles, she lives with her coaches, former Grand Slam champion Lindsay Davenport and Davenport's husband, Jon Leach, and their four children.
These days, when they're in Florida, Stephens, 22, and Keys, 20, are bachelorettes with their own apartments. Stephens lives on trendy Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, while Keys is located in the more residential Coconut Creek.
For Stephens, this is her first experience living solo, which became a necessity when she rekindled a coaching relationship with Saviano. In truth, Stephens is still contemplating whether being grown up is a positive.
"I have my own place, but my mom is here more than not," Stephens said sheepishly. "It's definitely interesting to live on your own and be by yourself, but it's boring. I'm talking to myself. That's how boring it is."
Keys made the choice to move away from home two years ago. She still finds it to her liking. Nowadays, her mom and sisters are headquartered in Iowa and her dad is in Chicago. But as Keys says, her circumstances at home came with annoyances Stephens wouldn't understand.
"I actually moved out when I was 18, so I'm kind of used to living on my own now," Keys said. "Sloane didn't have two younger sisters who lived with her, stealing her clothes and hogging the bathroom -- and had to fight over things like that. For me, it's kind of nice."
Whatever the dynamics are between Stephens and Keys, they get along fine. They enjoyed their time as Fed Cup teammates in 2014 and have practiced together through the years. And it's likely that for the foreseeable future, they'll continue to travel in the same circle.
"I know Maddy is going to have a great career," Stephens said. "I am going to see her for like the next 10 years of my life consistently."
Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys appear to be the future of U.S. women's tennis, but Friday in Miami, only one of them came to the court ready to win.