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Stephens rockets through opening salvo

By David Kane
Monday, August 25, 2014

WHAT HAPPENED: Sloane Stephens made a big statement on Louis Armstrong Stadium to begin her 2014 US Open campaign. The 21-year-old American hasn't had the best year; while she is yet to match a result like her 2013 Australian Open semifinal appearance, Stephens has spent the summer with a new coach and cultivating a new attitude. The effects of both were on display against German youngster Annika Beck. Playing in front of a home crowd, Stephens blitzed Beck in the opening set 6-0 in 27 minutes. While Stephens kept the stats sheet clean, the American made her opponent uncomfortable throughout the half-hour drubbing, drawing fourteen unforced errors from the young German. The run continued for Stephens in the second set, opening a 3-0 lead before Beck staved off the double bagel with a hold. Under pressure for the first time in the match, Stephens held her ground, moving ahead to 4-1 with a thundering forehand winner. The one hiccup in the match came when Stephens served at 4-2; the American fell behind 0-40 and went on to lose serve to 15. Just when the door seemed open for Beck to make a comeback, Stephens slammed it shut by converting defense to offense and breaking with another forehand winner. Serving for the match, Stephens made no mistakes and brushed Beck aside to remain undefeated in US Open first rounds.

"I just knew I had to come out and play solid," Stephens said after the match. "Annika is a great player. She gets a lot of balls back. I knew I had to play my game from the beginning, from the first point. That's what I did. I stayed pretty solid with that, so I was pleased with that."

WHAT IT MEANS: In her short career, Stephens has been known as much for her inconsistencies as her raw ability. One thing that has remained constant for the American is her ability to compete at the major tournaments. In the last seven she’s played, she has only lost before the fourth round once; though it was a first round loss at Wimbledon, her conqueror was former top 10 player Maria Kirilenko. Stephens will next play Johanna Larsson, who was equally dominant in her first round match. The Swede crushed former Top 20 player Virginie Razzano 6-0, 6-0. Should the seeds hold, Stephens would play No. 9 seed and 2008 US Open finalist, Jelena Jankovic. Jankovic and Stephens have played twice this summer, with the Serb downing Stephens in both encounters, though the first was a three-set epic in Montreal.

THE QUESTION: Can Stephens replicate this form against the game’s elite?