With the competition at the US Open now nearing its denouement, defending champion and world #3 Sloane Stephens takes on Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia for a place in the last four. Stephens has not quite been a model of consistency this year, but she has had some excellent results and will feel she has a good chance of again going all the way in New York. But Sevastova is always dangerous and has enjoyed some fine moments at the US Open. Who will come out on top?
Stephens and Sevastova have met three times with the American leading the head-to-head 2-1. Their first clash came a year ago at the same stage in New York, and Stephens emerged a 6-3 3-6 7-6 victor after a fierce battle. Sevastova had her revenge later that year in Wuhan, beating Stephens in straight sets in the first round. Their rivalry was renewed last month in Montreal in the quarterfinals where Stephens was a surprisingly comfortable 6-2 6-2 victor.
Path to the quarterfinals
Stephens began her US Open campaign against Evgeniya Rodina, who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon but offered little resistance against Stephens, with the world #3 winning 6-1 7-5. She then survived a scare against Ukrainian Anhelina Kalinina, rallying from a set down to win 4-6 7-5 6-2. She backed that win up with an impressive 6-3 6-4 victory over former world #1 Victoria Azarenka before beating the in-form Elise Mertens 6-3 6-3 in the last 16.
Sevastova opened her tournament with a battling 6-2 2-6 6-3 win over Croatia’s Donna Vekic, before brushing aside the rising American teenager Claire Liu 6-3 6-1 to reach the third round. There she faced Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova, and despite dropping the first set Sevastova finished strongly to win 4-6 6-1 6-2. In the fourth round, she overcame Elina Svitolina in a seesawing affair, racing away with the decider to return to the US Open quarterfinals a 6-3 1-6 6-0 winner.
How do they match up?
Both Stephens and Sevastova are excellent athletes. Stephens, unusually for an American, a nation best known for its steady production line of explosive hitters, is most comfortable counter-punching. There are few who cover the court better than her, and she is capable of using the ball effectively even at the end of her range. But when she is playing her best tennis, she is able to step in and dictate. That was the match she played against Mertens, finding a good balance between attack and defence.
It was reflected in the statistics, with Stephens recording a healthy 17 winners and 25 unforced errors. It was certainly better than the wayward Mertens, who hit just 12 winners at the cost of 35 unforced. Sevastova is unlikely to be so profligate. She moves exceptionally well, and is usually extremely solid from the back of the court. But she may struggle to beat Stephens from the baseline and would do well to come into the forecourt as she did against Svitolina, winning 12 of 17 points at the net.
When Stephens and Sevastova met in Montreal, it was very one-sided. But, that result was as much due to how poorly Sevastova played as it was the good things that Stephens did. But, it was also in part a reflection of the gap in quality that exists between this pair. As good as Sevastova is, she is not quite in Stephens’ class, and cannot match the American’s weight of shot, a crucial difference between two otherwise fairly evenly matched opponents. Stephens in three.