In a clash that pits a current member of the top ten against a former resident in that elite number, second seed and world #3 Sloane Stephens takes on former world #9 Andrea Petkovic. Stephens has gone from strength to strength since returning from a serious foot injury last July, winning her first Slam at the US Open and finishing as runner-up at Roland Garros. But Petkovic has shown this year that she still packs a punch. Who will come out on top?
Stephens and Petkovic have met four times so far in their careers although not since 2014. Their first match came back in 2013 on the hard courts in Carlsbad where Petkovic dominated to win 6-2 6-1 in the quarterfinals. Stephens had her revenge later that year at Wimbledon, battling past Petkovic 7-6 2-6 8-6 in the second round before beating her again later that year in Linz 7-6 4-6 6-3. She picked up her third win against the German a year later in Cincinnati where she won 6-3 6-3.
Path to the second round
Stephens, who is now the highest seed left in the draw after top seed Caroline Wozniacki’s withdrawal with a leg injury, began her Washington campaign against her compatriot Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Mattek-Sands has enjoyed the majority of her success on the doubles court, but has proven a dangerous operator in singles and she provided Stephens with a real test. Ultimately, however, the 2015 champion had too much, edging out Mattek-Sands 7-5 6-4.
Petkovic found herself drawn against the USA’s Jamie Loeb in the first round. Loeb had an excellent collegiate career at the University of North Carolina where she won the NCAA title in singles in 2015. But she has found the step up to the WTA Tour a difficult one, and has appeared in a Grand Slam main draw only once, in New York in 2015 as a wildcard. Against Petkovic there looked to be a serious gulf in quality between the two, and the German was untroubled throughout in a 6-1 6-1 win.
How do they match up?
Stephens is amongst the most impressive athletes in the game. Her court coverage is almost without equal and the American is capable of using the ball well at the end of her range. Stephens is also able to go on the attack backed by powerful groundstrokes, notably on the forehand side, although she does tend to press too hard when a match is going against her. Similarly, her serve is powerful but occasionally inaccurate.
Petkovic is not the most powerful of players, but like many of her contemporaries on the Tour such as Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki, she has proven herself an adept counterpuncher. She is comfortable trading from the baseline off both wings although it is her forehand that is the more useful shot offensively. She has also shown impressive feel throughout her career and is particularly adept at hitting topspin lobs.
Petkovic is always a dangerous opponent, but so too is Stephens, who has long been amongst the best hard court players in the world. She has the defensive skills to withstand the majority of what her opponents can throw at her and the power to hit through them. Moreover, any rust she was feeling after nearly a month away from the Tour should be behind her after a tough opener against Mattek-Sands. Stephens will have her work cut out for her again, but expect her to advance in three.