Sloane Stephens took just over an hour to race past fellow American prospect Jamie Hampton 6-3, 6-3 late on Monday afternoon, ensuring a second-round berth and boosted her chances of making her favourite Indian restaurant before it closed for the night.
It was billed as the battle of the top two ranked US players behind Serena Williams but it was 17th-seeded Stephens who brought an end to her 23-year-old countrywoman’s impressive grasscourt season on Court No.18.
Afterwards, she was in just as big a hurry, only it was a race against the clock to catch a good curry. “Well, normally I get the chicken tikka masala, but the last two nights I've got the chicken korma. It's like spicy. It's been really good. I go there every night,” she said.
The tikka masala was looking unlikely when after taking the first set, Stephens quickly fell behind 3-1 in the second with Hampton’s serve to come. The papadums risked going soggy and the rice cold.
Stephens, though, was in no mood to miss her Indian dinner, bringing up break point in the following game with an overhead putaway before taking the game with Hampton’s forehand finding the net. The 20-year-old – who reached her first Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open in January with victory over Serena Williams along the way – was on a roll.
She broke the Hampton serve again with a backhand winner down the line for 4-3 and closed it out with a third straight break, taking the final five games of the match. “Jamie has been playing well. Even though it was three and three, it was a really tough match. I think we played a pretty high quality of tennis,” Stephens said.
Head to head, they came into the match at one win apiece, Stephens claiming the honours at Indian Wells last year before Hampton returned the favour in Charleston this year.
This, however, was their first meeting on grass and both opted for contrasting preparations coming into Wimbledon.Stephens honed her game practising at Aorangi after reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros, while Hampton notched up eight matches on grass, coming through qualifying before reaching her first tour final at Eastbourne last week.
She fell short against Russian Elena Vesnina in that match and said the succession of matches may have taken a toll.
“I mean, played in Eastbourne, but came here and the court is a little bit different,” Hampton said. “Didn't have too much time to recover. But it is what it is. She played a good match.”
For Hampton, it is a matter of managing a problematic back when determining her schedule. It’s an injury, which struck at an inopportune time in Melbourne this year, when she led eventual champion Victoria Azarenka by a set in the third round.
“Honestly, I'm not feeling that great,” the 23-year-old said after her loss to Stephens. “My back is hurting a little bit. But, yeah. I'm not lying on the ground like in Australia.”
While Stephens concedes movement on grass is the hardest adjustment, she is warming to the quick-fire pace of play. “I think you get to hit the ball as hard as you can and most of the time it's still going to go in,” she said. “That's the easiest part. You just, like, go for your shots. Most of the ones on hardcourts are like going to go to the fence, and on grass for some reason it stays in.”
Stephens will face German former top 10 player Andrea Petkovic in the second round and if the American is scheduled late in the day again with a tikka masala on her mind, things could be over in a flash.
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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