Sloane Stephens has notched her first win at Melbourne Park since 2014, defeating fellow American Taylor Townsend 6-4 6-2 Monday in a very warm Margaret Court Arena.
In their first-ever meeting, the 2017 US Open champion recovered from a nervy start – barely finding the court in going down 2-0 – as the lefty, net-rushing Townsend opened with a textbook serve-volley combo that would have done John McEnroe proud.
But the No.5 seed quickly recovered, working the No.93 around the court with her subtle spin and landing a stream of dipping, passing shots to reel off 11 of 13 games and take a 6-4 3-0 stranglehold on the match.
Townsend gained a reprieve when Stephens dropped serve for 3-1, with a double-fault and a forehand error, and then braved four match points to hold for 5-2, leaving Stephens to serve it out.
This was a popcorn match between a king-hitter and boxer: Townsend looking to keep the points curt and Stephens to extend them and work her opponent over the court in testing conditions. Townsend’s throwback, blustery attack is fun to watch, though she was too loose to threaten Stephens.
The 22-year-old surrendered serve in the ninth game with four errors. A double-fault in the opening game of the second set left her in a 0-40 hole. And Townsend was arguably underdone for match-play, a first-up loss in Auckland her only outing before Melbourne. The AO junior singles and doubles champion in 2012, she is yet to win in the main draw here.
Stephens hasn’t come out firing in 2019 either, notching a single win from three clashes and going down in Sydney to qualifier Yulia Putintseva 6-0 in the third, after serving for the match.
It seems eons since a teenaged Stephens announced herself by upsetting Simona Halep and Serena Williams in 2013 en route to a controversial semifinal against Victoria Azarenka. She also fell to dual champ Azarenka in 2014 and 2015, the latter beginning a run of three straight opening-round exits (she missed 2017 after foot surgery).
A career-high No.3 ranking in 2018, and impressive runs to the finals of Roland Garros and Singapore, see her better placed to do damage here. Timea Babos awaits, with No.31 Petra Martic the next seed Stephens could face, in the third round.
For today, the 25-year-old is happy to end her losing run and escape the heat after 67 minutes.
“It’s always tough playing against a fellow compatriot,” Stephens admitted. “She plays totally different than some of the girls.” The key was “patience”, she said, a quality not always synonymous with the streaky Stephens but one she can now call on.
Source: Suzi Petkovski