Defending champion and world #3 Sloane Stephens will continue her quest to claim a second consecutive US Open title when she takes on Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine for a place in the third round. It has been a good season for Stephens, albeit an inconsistent one, but she will be desperate to hold onto her US Open title. Kalinina has as of yet made little impact on the higher echelons of the game but would cause a seismic shock with victory. Who will come out on top?
This will be the first meeting between Stephens and Kalinina. But Stephens, four years her opponent’s senior, has a marked advantage in terms of experience. She has won six titles to Kalinina’s zero, and though Stephens record this year of 27-13 is inferior on paper to Kalinina’s 33-13 record, the American has been competing at the highest level, Kalinina has not. That is evidenced by the fact that this is Kalinina’s first appearance in the second round of a Major. It is Stephens’ 21st.
Path to the second round
Stephens arrived in New York after a disappointing third-round loss in Cincinnati. But after her efforts in reaching the final in Montreal (lost to Halep), she may have been grateful for the extra-rest she was afforded as a result. Particularly after a weary-looking Halep crashed out in the first round to Kaia Kanepi. Stephens never looked in similar danger against Evgeniya Rodina. She took the first set for the loss of just one game and won through 6-1 7-5.
Kalinina’s US Open campaign began in the qualifying against fellow young gun Elena-Gabriella Ruse of Romania who she defeated 7-6 6-1 to set up a clash with Tereza Martincova. Kalinina dismissed the Czech 6-3 6-1 before rallying past 18-year-old Jamiee Fourlis 3-6 6-2 6-1 to reach the main draw. There she faced Kathinka von Deichmann of Liechtenstein. It was von Deichmann who made the better start, but Kalinina hung tough to advance when von Deichmann retired trailing 6-1 6-7 2-5.
How do they match up?
Unlike her compatriots such as the Williams sisters, Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe, Stephens is not naturally an aggressively minded player. Rather she prefers to trust in her excellent court coverage to frustrate opponents and her quality as a counterpuncher to undo their attempts to hit through her. But she can step in and dictate when she needs to. Her forehand is her best weapon when she is on the attack, and can be quite devastating when she is allowed time on the ball.
That is the one thing that Kalinina must work hard to deny her, though it is far easier said than done. Kalinina’s best shot is her two-handed backhand, which she strikes particularly well cross court, and she will need it against Stephens. Particularly because her serve and forehand can be vulnerable. She does not have massive power to throw behind either and should this match become a slugging-fest from the baseline, it will not favour the Ukrainian.
Stephens looked very sharp in defeating Rodina. She was able to find the right balance between her natural instincts to remain on the defensive and the need to keep an opponent off-balance through attacking play. That left Rodina with no answers, despite a commendable effort from the Russian in the second set. It also suggests that Kalinina will struggle. Expect Stephens to outclass her opponent and reach the third round in straight sets.