In her first match since reaching the French Open final (lost to Halep), fourth seeded Sloane Stephens takes on Croatia’s Donna Vekic at Wimbledon. Stephens lost first round at Wimbledon last year in what was her first match in almost a year after a foot injury, but then enjoyed a magical summer capped off by a run to the US Open title. Her form has been patchy since but she is none-the-less a firmly established force in the game. But will the talented Vekic be able to stop her early in SW19?
Stephens and Vekic have met just once previously with that match coming two years ago in Strasbourg on the clay. It was a closely fought contest in the first set, which Vekic won seven games to five with a late break. But thereafter it was all Stephens who imposed herself on the match to advance to the round of 16 a 5-7 6-2 6-2 winner. What guide that match is to this one, however, is uncertain with both players having changed considerably in the intervening period and the court conditions very different.
Last time out
Stephens elected not to play any warm up events ahead of Wimbledon this year, perhaps as a result of a draining fortnight in the French capital. There she played some excellent tennis, particularly in the second week, picking up straight sets wins against Daria Kasatkina in the quarterfinals and Madison Keys in the semifinals. In the title match, however, Halep ultimately proved too strong despite a fast start for Stephens, with the Romanian ending her long wait for a Slam with a 4-6 6-3 6-1 win.
Vekic found herself out of Roland Garros after losing a close second round match to Maria Sharapova, which allowed her to get plenty of grass court practice. She made a run to the Nottingham semifinals, losing to Johanna Konta before pushing Elina Svitolina in a three set defeat in Birmingham. She played most recently at Devonshire Park, defeating recent French Open quarterfinalist Yulia Putintseva 7-5 6-3 before losing to Barbora Strycova 6-1 6-4 in the second round.
How do they match up?
Both Vekic and Stephens are excellent ball strikers and terrific athletes. Indeed, few move better than Stephens, whose ability to cover the court and use the ball well at the end of her range is central to her success. That being said, she is not an entirely defensive player, with her forehand a useful weapon when the American steps into the court. Her first serve is also dangerous although on occasion she can be errant when stepping to the line.
Vekic, despite being just 22, already seems like something of a veteran having reached her first WTA final in Tashkent six years ago. Her groundstrokes are reliably well-struck and her serve is effective, although not one of the best on Tour. But she does still seem to struggle to summon the level of consistency required to become a real force in the game. Too often the Croatian takes heavy defeats from players she would have beaten on a better day, which continues to hold her back.
Stephens has not enjoyed great success at Wimbledon although she did make the quarterfinals in 2013. But she looked comfortable on the big stage at the French Open, and she should be able to carry that good feeling forward into Wimbledon despite a fairly lengthy period of inactivity. Vekic’s grass court campaign started promisingly, but has tailed off and against a player of Stephens’ quality she will have no time to find her feet again. Stephens in two close sets.