In a battle between the reigning US Open champion and the defending champion in Canada, Sloane Stephens takes on Elina Svitolina for a place in the final in Montreal. Stephens has had a season of mixed results, a superb run to the final in Paris was followed by a fairly dismal first round exit at Wimbledon. Svitolina, despite starting the season well with a quarterfinal in Melbourne, has found success hard to come by, though she did win in Rome. But who will come out on top?
Stephens and Svitolina have met twice so far in their careers, although both were in 2014, in a head-to-head tied at one win apiece. Stephens won the first, which came in Melbourne at the Australian Open in the third round, 7-5 6-4, though she was dismissed in the next round by two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka. Svitolina had her revenge in Charleston later that season, beating Stephens 6-4 6-4 in the first round.
Path to the semifinal
Stephens began her Montreal campaign in the round of 32, after a bye, where she crushed Canadian wildcard Francoise Abanda 6-0 6-2. She backed that up with an impressive, if less comprehensive, victory over former world #6 Carla Suarez Navarro, beating the Spaniard 6-2 7-5. That set up a clash with Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova, who had saved match points in the second round against Monica Puig, but was out-thought and out-fought by Stephens who won 6-2 6-2.
Svitolina, who also received a first-round bye, opened in Montreal against San Jose champion Mihaela Buzarnescu whose rise has been one of the stories of the season. She also gave Svitolina a real battle until a nasty fall, which caused ligament damage, forced her retirement in the third set. Svitolina was more comfortable in dispatching Britain’s Johanna Konta 6-3 6-4 and Belgium’s Elise Mertens 7-5 6-3, though she did have to rally from a 0-4 first set deficit against the latter.
How do they match up?
Central to Stephens’ rise to the top of the game has been her nearly unrivalled athleticism. Few, if any, players cover the court more impressively than the American and her defence in the corners is superb, particularly on a hard court. She also has weapons to complement her defensive quality. When given time on the ball her forehand can be devastatingly effective and she can also step into her backhand, though it is not the most reliable of shots.
Svitolina doesn’t possess Stephens’ raw athleticism or power. But, there are also virtually no holes in her game, save a second serve that can be vulnerable at times. She moves well, hits the ball well off both her forehand and backhand side and is not uncomfortable in the forecourt. Thus, whilst she may not hit her opponents off the court or reach every ball, she can hit enough winners and draw enough errors to win a lot of matches.
Both Stephens and Svitolina have been playing some excellent tennis to reach the last four. Their paths have not been easy, but with the exception of Buzarnescu, neither has been unduly troubled by an opponent. What seems to give Svitolina a slight edge in this match, however, is her status as the defending champion in Canada. She is clearly extremely comfortable in Canada and her good memories could well prove decisive in the crucial moments. Svitolina in three.
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