In a clash for a place in the Roland Garros semifinals, two bright young talents in the women’s game face off in the second match on Chatrier. Sloane Stephens, who won her first Slam last year at the US Open, has struggled since to replicate the form of her late summer successes. Daria Kasatkina, meanwhile, has gone from strength to strength this season as she looks to breakthrough to take her place amongst the elite players in the game. But who will come out on top in this one?
Stephens and Kasatkina have never met before on Tour. Stephens, the elder of the two by four years, is unsurprisingly also the more experienced of the two. Whilst for Kasatkina this is a first quarterfinal at a Grand Slam, her best previous result being reaching the fourth round in New York last year, Stephens is a Major winner. She has also reached at least the quarterfinals at every other Slam, although this is her first at the French Open.
Path to the fourth round
Stephens began her campaign for a first French Open with a dominant win over Holland’s Arantxa Rus, winning through to the second round 6-0 6-2. She was hardly more troubled in defeating Poland’s Magdalena Frech, dropping just four games in a 6-2 6-2 win. However, she found herself in a real battle when she took on Italy’s Camila Giorgi in the third round. She dropped the first set, and had to dig deep indeed, to win 4-6 6-1 8-6. However, Anett Kontaveit did not put up such spirited resistance, and the American reached the quarterfinal a 6-0 6-2 winner.
Kasatkina impressed in defeating Kaia Kanepi of Estonia 6-4 6-1 in first round action, and put in another clinical performance to knock out Kirsten Flipkens, a former Wimbledon semifinalist, 6-3 6-3. But like Stephens, Kasatkina found herself severely tested in the third round, where she took on Maria Sakkari in a seesawing match. Eventually, however, the Russian’s quality told as she advanced a 6-1 1-6 6-3 winner. She then delivered an excellent performance to upset second seed Caroline Wozniacki in a match played over two days 7-6 6-3.
How do they match up?
This match should feature no shortage of excellent rallies, with Kasatkina and Stephens both amongst the best movers on Tour. Stephens, however, is the more naturally aggressively minded of the two, in large part because she has bigger weapons. Her forehand is her biggest weapon off the ground, and whilst her large take back can cause her problems on faster court surfaces, on clay where she is afforded more time she is able to confidently and consistently dictate with it.
Kasatkina may not be able to generate power as effectively as Stephens, but she does excel at using her opponent’s pace against them. Her running forehand is amongst the best in the game and it is certainly a shot Stephens will need to remain aware of when looking to pull the Russian out wide to that wing. Kasatkina also possesses a fine backhand drop shot, which she disguises well. It is a shot that is rewarded on a clay court, but overusing it will almost certainly be costly against as good an athlete as Stephens.
As well as Kasatkina can play, she seems to struggle to cope with the Tour’s biggest hitters, as evidenced by the crushing defeat she received at the hands of Naomi Osaka in the Indian Wells final earlier this year. Stephens isn’t as aggressive as Osaka and she’s unlikely to completely hit Kasatkina off a clay court, particularly one as deep as Chatrier. But, her power does still give her an advantage that it is hard to see Kasatkina overcoming. Stephens in straight sets.