Monday 1 July 2013
Sloane Stephens, a 20-year-old from Palm Springs, Florida, seeded No.17, reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon for the first time with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory over Monica Puig of Puerto Rico.
The remarkable factor about this fourth round match was the stark one-sided nature of the final set. Stephens and Puig had staged a hard-fought and utterly competitive match on Court 18 for an hour and 40 minutes for a match score of one set each.
But it was Stephens who dominated the deciding set in a way she had not threatened to do as decisively in the early stages.
The timing alone said it all.
The first set took 47 minutes and Stephens responded by winning the second to level the match in 51 minutes.
Against those statistics the final set was a one-way race, dominated by Stephens who won five games running for a victory that will reverberate around the game. She is now the last surviving American in the singles events – and who would have predicted that at the start of the day?
Quite apart from what happened today, Stephens had already played two successive three-set and therefore lengthy matches against Andrea Petkovic and Petra Cetkovska. Her place as No.17 seed said she would win but as the early evidence unfolded this was going to be a lengthy and closely contested quarter-final.
Puig had never played at Wimbledon until this year except for the junior event in 2010. She began commendably last week with a win in her first grass event as a professional over the No.5 seed Sara Errani. That said a great deal about her ability and ambitions.
But Stephens, the only teenager and the youngest player in last year's top 50 final rankings, knew she was progressing. Stephens had been in the fourth round of three Grand Slams in a row but Wimbledon was another key step forward.
The first set today was unpredictable. From 2-2, three out of four games went against serve, leaving Puig 5-3 ahead. She won that set 6-4 on her fourth set point.
The second set, in contrast, went 10 games without a break of serve. But it was Stephens who broke the mould by capturing the last game as Puig committed a string of errors.
In the final set Stephens was ahead 3-1, which was foundation enough. But she had to save a break point in the last game before confirming her win.
Into the last eight at Wimbledon for the first time, Stephens says she still has to learn to be patient as she heads for a quarter-final against Marion Bartoli of France.
"I have to be patient with myself,"she says. "I think just learning how to compete and like hanging in there and just battling, never giving up, just knowing that even the little things, when you're down 30-0 in a game, 40-0 in a game, you can always come back. For myself it's learning how to really battle, staying out there on the court, learning how to compete.
"I think just knowing that I am a good tennis player, I'm top 20 in the world for a reason. I didn't like all of a sudden snap my fingers and I got good.
"I put in a lot of work, took a lot of sweat, like bad hair days, all that other stuff, to get to where I was. I realise that I just couldn't let that go to waste. I had to get back to work and just start working again.
"It's my first time here making the last eight. I'm really excited. This is just like a dream to be here."
Of her quarter-final against Bartoli, she says "Definitely will be tough. She plays really well on grass. She made the finals here, obviously a really good player. I'm going to have to go out, do my best, compete, and see how it goes.
"She hits really flat, really hard. She goes for all of her shots. It's tough playing someone who is going for it all the time. You have to adjust you know, just do your best really."
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