The dream run that took 18-year-old Sloane Stephens into the third round of her US Open debut came to an abrupt end Saturday night under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium. In an hour and 10 minutes, No. 16 seed Ana Ivanovic dashed the hopes of not only the American, but also those of the home crowd that did its best to will its young favorite to win.
The Serb's 6-3, 6-4 victory puts her into the round of 16 at Flushing Meadows for the third time in her career. There, she will face another American and fan-favorite, Serena Williams.
With the win, Ivanovic appears to be gaining confidence and enjoying the competition on court, a sign that she is ready to get back up to the next level.
“I think with all the work I've done, you do gain confidence,” she said. “Obviously when you win, you have more confidence, you enjoy competing much more. That's something that I gain back. It makes a big difference because you don't doubt so much when you step on the court and you can play a lot freer.”
Throughout the match, Stephens put up quite a fight, holding her own against the former world No. 1 in rallies and forcing her opponent to earn the points. While Ivanovic committed a staggering number of unforced errors throughout the match, 25 to be exact, Stephens did little to mix up her shots, sending the majority of her serves to Ivanovic's forehand, her known strength. Ivanovic struck 16 winners to Stephens' seven.
Stephens admitted the nerves and overwhelming pressure of playing in front of 23,000 people got the best of her and affected her game. But she was happy to have learned from the experience of playing on tennis’ biggest stage.
“I went on the court extremely nervous obviously,” she said. “I couldn't hit the ball past the service line. I was like, Oh, my God, what am I doing? But, I mean, I'm upset because obviously I lost, but I had so many chances. I knew exactly what I had to do, and I just didn't execute properly. But I think for a first time I'm glad I got it out of the way. So next time, you know, hopefully it will be a little better.”
Despite being broken in the third game of the first set, Ivanovic jumped to a quick 5-1 lead, putting the pressure on Stephens’ serve to break her first three service games. Stephens answered with another break back, then capitalized on the Serb’s consecutive errors to hold and climb back to 5-3. Ivanovic fought off triple break point to hold and close the first set.
Both players traded four breaks of serve in the second set to reach 4-4. One more was all Ivanovic needed to take the 5-4 edge and serve out the match.
After the match, Stephens said she was happy with her performance against a former Grand Slam champion, as it’s indicative of how far and fast her career can go from here.
“I definitely think I've improved a lot over the last couple of weeks, and I'm really proud of myself, no matter what,” Stephens said. “I think over the last few weeks, I've really stepped up my game. Mentally I've done pretty well for myself. I think just going forward, I'll probably just try and keep the same rhythm and momentum going into the last few tournaments of the year and just keep working with it and trying to improve and get better.”
En route to her third round contest, Stephens, a wild card, dismantled No. 23 seed Shahar Peer in straight sets 6-1, 7-6, no easy task. No doubt the nerve-racking conditions of playing her first match under the lights at her first US Open, not to mention against a former No. 1, was a lot for Stephens to handle. But given her remarkable performance under this pressure, there's no doubt she'll be playing before the New York night crowd for many more times to come.
- Stephens committed twice as many double faults as Ivanovic with six.
- By reaching this stage of the US Open, Stephens ranking will improve from No. 109 to around No. 90.
- Ivanovic had a 60% winning percentage on first serves. Stephens stood at 48%.
|Sloane Stephens USA||3||4|
|Ana Ivanovic SRB (16)||6||6|