Sloane Stephens wins all-American US Open clash with Coco Gauff

  • Stephens beats 21st seed 6-4, 6-2 to reach third round
Sloane Stephens
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Sloane Stephens returns a shot against Coco Gauff during their US Open second-round match on Wednesday night at Flushing Meadows.

 

Four years ago, Sloane Stephens made a stunning run to the US Open title as the world’s 83rd-ranked player. If the 28-year-old American keeps playing like she did on Wednesday night, there’s no reason that improbable history could not repeat itself in the week or so ahead.

Amid the steady din of violent rains from the remnants of Hurricane Ida that hammered the roof above Arthur Ashe Stadium, Stephens relied on a dialled-in serve, weapons-grade forehand and veteran sangfroid throughout a professional 6-4, 6-2 win over 21st-seeded Coco Gauff in an all-American second-round blockbuster.

US Open 2021: Sloane Stephens defeats Coco Gauff to reach third round – as it happened
@SloaneStephens

 

Gauff, the youngest player in the Women’s Tennis Association’s top 100 and one of the faces of the tournament, was headlining the night session in the world’s biggest tennis stadium for the first time since reaching the third round on her main-draw debut back in 2019. That became a night she’d sooner forget: a 6-3, 6-0 loss to Naomi Osaka that left her in tears.

The 17-year-old has come a long way since then, reaching this year’s French Open quarter-finals and climbing to a career-high ranking of No 23. But on a night when there was not a whole lot to separate the two, it was Stephens who managed to raise her level at the critical junctures. “I feel like there’s just an experience lacking that I have,” a downcast Gauff admitted in the aftermath. “I definitely think it shows. I think that I just need to play more matches so I feel more comfortable in the pressure moments.”

After both players breezed through their opening service games with little resistance, it was Gauff who first betrayed her nerve while serving at 4-all, flinching in three straight baseline rallies to go break point down before gifting away the game with an untimely double fault. After the change of ends, Stephens coolly served out the set in 34 minutes.

Stephens’ athleticism and ability to retrieve powerful groundstrokes, in addition to her matured variety and understanding of point construction, gave her a decisive advantage in the lengthier exchanges. So it came as no surprise that she opened the second frame pounding deep, flat groundstrokes down the middle of the court with the goal of extending the rallies and coaxing unforced errors from her younger foe. Moments after saving the only break point she’d face all night at 2-all, Stephens tightened her grip on the proceedings by breaking Gauff at love in the span of about two minutes.

It got late early from there for the teenager. Stephens held at love to extend a run of 11 straight points won, then went up a double break at 5-2 when Gauff badly sprayed a forehand from behind the baseline. Stephens didn’t mince about in the endgame, rattling off four quick points to hold at love and close the show in 66 minutes.

Stephens’ average forehand speed off the ground 78mph was faster than any male or female player on Ashe this year, according to advanced statistics only available on the tournament’s main show court. “The forehand was key today,” said Stephens, who landed 84% of her first serves in play and won 80% of those points. “I wanted to come out here and really execute and play my game and I was able to do that well, so I’m really pleased with how I played.”

Coco Gauff in action at Flushing Meadows.
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Coco Gauff in action at Flushing Meadows.

Stephens had been sidelined for 11 months by injury and was ranked 957th in the world a month before the 2017 US Open, only to survive a wildly unpredictable fortnight in which the top eight women’s seeds were eliminated by the quarter-finals for the first time at any major tournament since the grand slams allowed professionals to compete with amateurs in 1968. That was enough for some critics to dismiss her surprise triumph as a fluke, but Stephens backed up her maiden slam with a formidable 2018 campaign that included the Miami title and a run to the French Open final while peaking at No 3 in the rankings.

Now 28, she has battled inconsistency all season, dropping to 66th in the world despite reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros and the third at Wimbledon. She entered Flushing Meadows with a modest singles record of 15 wins and 14 losses on the year, but came from behind in a third-set tiebreaker to defeat Madison Keys in the first round before Wednesday night’s more straightforward affair.

In terms of style Stephens has always defied easy categorisation. She is not endowed with devastating power but is more than solid off both wings even if she favours the forehand for winners. Her speed is not blinding but the American remains one of the tour’s best movers, quick off the mark and seemingly never out of position. No single element of the package grades as exceptional but, when everything is clicking, Stephens is as complete as it gets.

It won’t get easier from here. Stephens will likely face the No 16 seed and 2016 US Open champion Angelique Kerber in the third round ahead of a potential date with Osaka in the round of 16. But there’s no question that Stephens, who from a young age earned a reputation for playing her best on the biggest stages, feeds off the atmosphere at the site of her greatest triumph.

“It’s so fun in there,” Stephens said of Ashe. “It’s like a good place, it’s a happy place. I think I’ve had a lot of good memories there. For me, it’s a feel-good. I think being in this position, trying to work my way through the tournament, have tough matches, like it’s nice to have that comfort, those moments to look back on. OK, I’m comfortable here, I’m happy here.”

Sloane Stephens

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Sloane Stephens
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Country (sports)
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United States
Residence Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.[1]
Born March 20, 1993 (age 28)[2]
Plantation, Florida, U.S.
Height 1.71 m (5 ft 7 in)
Turned pro 2009[3]
Plays Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Prize money US$16,101,104
Official website sloanestephens.com
Singles
Career record 313–222 (58.5%)
Career titles 6
Highest ranking No. 3 (16 July 2018)
Current ranking No. 66 (30 August 2021)
Grand Slam Singles results
Australian Open SF (2013)
French Open F (2018)
Wimbledon QF (2013)
US Open W (2017)
Other tournaments
Tour Finals F (2018)
Olympic Games 1R (2016)
Doubles
Career record 41–58 (41.4%)
Career titles 0
Highest ranking No. 94 (24 October 2011)
Current ranking No. 1048 (30 August 2021)
Grand Slam Doubles results
Australian Open 1R (2012)
French Open 1R (2012, 2013, 2014)
Wimbledon 2R (2017)
US Open 1R (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2017)
Mixed doubles
Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results
Australian Open 2R (2016)
Wimbledon 3R (2018)
US Open 2R (2008, 2012)
Team competitions
Fed Cup W (2017)
Last updated on: 21:59, 30 August 2021 (UTC).

Sloane Stephens (born March 20, 1993) is an American professional tennis player. She achieved a career-best ranking of No. 3 in the world after Wimbledon in 2018. Stephens was the 2017 US Open champion, and has won six WTA singles titles in total.

Born to athletic parents with backgrounds in collegiate swimming and professional American football, Stephens was first introduced to tennis at the club across the street from her house in Fresno, California. Her stepfather was a competitive recreational tennis player and served as her primary inspiration for beginning to play the sport. Stephens moved to Florida to train at a tennis academy, ultimately working with Nick Saviano for many years. She developed into a promising junior player, reaching a career-high ITF junior ranking of world No. 5 and winning three out of four Grand Slam girls’ doubles titles in 2010 alongside her partner Tímea Babos.

While still just 19 years old, Stephens rose to prominence at the 2013 Australian Open with a semifinal run highlighted by an upset of then-world No. 3 Serena Williams. Although she climbed to as high as No. 11 towards the end of that year, she later regressed and stayed steadily ranked outside the top 25 through the end of 2015. At this point, Stephens switched to a new coach, Kamau Murray, under whom she returned to an elite level and won three WTA titles in the first half of 2016. Her successful year was then cut short by a foot injury that kept her sidelined for eleven months.

She returned from injury in the middle of 2017 and won her first Grand Slam singles title at the US Open in just her fifth tournament back. She was also awarded WTA Comeback Player of the Year for her successful season. In 2018, Stephens continued her success by winning her first Premier Mandatory title at the Miami Open, reaching a second Grand Slam singles final at the French Open, entering the top 10 for the first time, and finishing runner-up at the WTA Finals.

Stephens was born on March 20, 1993 in Plantation, Florida to Sybil Smith and John Stephens, both of whom were accomplished athletes. Her mother was the first African-American woman to be named a first-team All-American swimmer in Division I history. She is enshrined in the Boston University Athletic Hall of Fame and recognized as the greatest swimmer in the history of the university. Stephens’s father was a Pro Bowl running back for the New England Patriots in the National Football League.[5] Pro Football Hall of Famer Raymond Berry regarded him as the best athlete he had ever seen.