Sloane Stephens def Anastasija Sevastova 63 26 76(4)
The “comeback story” has been the dominant narrative at this year’s US Open. There’s Petra Kvitova’s triumphant return after severing tendons on her racquet hand, defending herself from a knife-wielding intruder last December. There’s Kaia Kanepi’s march through US Open qualifying to reach the Quarterfinals, after returning to the sport just three months ago ranked outside the top-500. Left wrist surgery delayed the start of Madison Keys’ season, but she’s back in top-form after winning her 3rd career WTA title in Stanford. AND…let us not forget Maria Sharapova’s Grand Slam return after a 19-month suspension.
Sloane Stephens’ story is equally as compelling
She had foot surgery in January and spent most of the season creating content for Tennis Channel. Sloane finally returned to the tour in June, and last month, reached the Toronto Semifinals as an unseeded player. She backed it up with a Semifinal run in Cincinnati. Then, last week, Sloane upset World #10 Dominika Cibulkova en-route to her first-ever US Open Quarterfinal appearance. That’s a confident return in a short period of time.
Sevastova no stranger to comebacks
Her opponent on Tuesday is no stranger to the comeback story. Due to lingering injuries and frustrating results, Anastasija Sevastova actually quit the sport of tennis for nearly two years. When she returned to the game in 2015, she started from scratch, winning four titles on the ITF Circuit. A year later, she reached a pair of WTA Finals in Mallorca and Bucharest, then upset both Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta to reach her first Grand Slam Quarterfinal at the 2016 US Open. This year, she won her second WTA Singles title in Mallorca and toughed-out a deciding-set win over Maria Sharapova, earning a spot in the US Open Quarters for the second straight year.
Tuesday’s comeback cage match
Both players had trouble holding serve. Sevastova received treatment on her hip by the third changeover. After splitting the first two sets, Sevastova gained the early edge in the decider. Down a break 2-3, Sloane broke back to level the set, but Sevastova answered with a break of her own. From there, the match could’ve easily gotten away from Stephens, but she was head strong. Sloane shortened points with precise, deep-ball approaches, and rarely missed at the net. Stephens broke again, leveled the set, and the two held through to the tiebreak. Up 6-4 in the breaker, Sloane delivered the win with a clean backhand winner, raising her arms in triumph.
Pressure is a privilege
After the match, Sloane explained why she was so calm under pressure, down a break in the deciding set. She said that a month ago, she was constantly stressed over whether she’d ever return to this level of competition. Suddenly, she realized how ridiculously lucky she was just to be able to play tennis for a living…just to go out and play. Since then, with that renewed perspective, there’s been clarity in pressure-packed key moments on court. She no longer puts the pressure on herself, she simply unleashes the ferocity of her natural talent and competitiveness. Sloane just…plays, and if its good enough that day, so be it. If not, so be it. Either way, she’s insanely lucky to be able to earn a living competing in the sport she loves, and that’s good enough.
Tonight, we’ll find out who Sloane faces in the Semifinals. If it’s Venus Williams, she can take confidence in the fact that she won their only previous meeting, two years ago at Roland Garros. If it’s Petra Kvitova, she can be equally as confident. Sloane and Petra played twice this Summer. Stephens won both matches, in Toronto and Cincinnati.