With the US Open now firmly on the horizon, defending champion Sloane Stephens will hope to continue her preparations for New York with a win against Anastasija Sevastova in Montreal. The American #1 has had a year of mixed results, highlighted by a run to the French Open final but marred by a first-round loss to Donna Vekic at Wimbledon. Sevastova has been more consistent than sparkling, but has put together a respectable run in Montreal. Who will come out on top?
Stephens and Sevastova have met twice so far in their careers with both matches coming at the tail-end of the year on hard courts. The first, which was then certainly the biggest match of Sevastova’s career and amongst biggest of Stephens’, came at the US Open last year in the quarterfinals. Stephens won it, edging out the Latvian 6-3 3-6 7-6 and went on to win the title. Sevastova then had a measure of revenge in Wuhan, winning 7-5 6-3 in the first round.
Path to the quarterfinals
Stephens, after a bye, began her Montreal campaign against the talented young Canadian Francoise Abanda, who had beaten Kirsten Flipkens in straight sets to reach the second round. But she was outmatched across the board by Stephens, who advanced a comfortable 6-0 6-2 winner. That set up a clash with former-world #6 Carla Suarez Navarro. Stephens did not have it all her own way, but was nonetheless a deserving 6-2 7-5 victor.
Sevastova, unseeded, opened her tournament with a dominant 6-0 6-1 win over Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia. She was then due to face world #7 Garbine Muguruza, but the Spaniard withdrew with an arm injury, leaving Sevastova to play Rio gold medallist Monica Puig. After dropping the first set, she had to save two match points in the second, but did so before running away with the third set to win 4-6 7-6 6-1. She then beat Wimbledon semifinalist Julia Goerges 6-3 7-6 to reach the last eight.
How do they match up?
Early in her career, Stephens was considered by many to be the heir to the Williams sisters’ throne. It was a reflection not only of their shared nationality but also the stylistic similarities. Like the two all-time greats Venus and Serena, Stephens is an excellent mover as well as having no shortage of power off the ground and when stepping to the line. What has held her back from approaching the rarified air they occupy, is her lack of offensive consistency.
But Stephens will need to be at her best when going on the attack against Sevastova, who is an excellent mover and uses the ball well even when on the stretch. She was able to frustrate the power of both Puig and Goerges, no mean feat, and force them in to enough errors to give her the victory. But Sevastova is not only a defensive player. Her feel is impressive, and she is capable of fairly aggressive hitting when given time on the ball.
Stephens has struggled since what must have been a difficult loss to take against Halep in the final in Paris. She was uninspired on her way to early exits at Wimbledon and last week in Washington, although her conquerors, Vekic and Petkovic, are both fine players. And she has looked confident so far in Canada where she made the semifinals last year to begin her magical summer. Sevastova has the tools to make this close, but if Stephens is feeling good, she’ll have too much. Stephens in three.