It’s usually hard to predict which young players will eventually become the cream of the crop, but it wouldn’t be going out on a limb to say that teenagers Sloane Stephens and Laura Robson will someday be seriously contending for Grand Slam titles.
In an extremely hard-fought and close contest between two young women who have known each other since they've been 12, Stephens held off a spirited challenge by the powerful Robson in a 7-5 6-3 third round victory on Saturday.
“It was super intense,” the 19-year-old Stephens said. “I think there wasn't a point where there wasn't something like, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is intense’. That's what it's about, getting out there and getting after it. We played a good match. It was intense, but it was good.”
The two had played a similarly close contest last week in Hobart, and this one was no different, as they went back and forth from inside the baseline in an attempt to wrest control. The free-swinging Robson was just coming off a marathon upset of Petra Kvitova in the prior round, and went for the same types of huge blasts against Stephens that had worked against the Czech eighth seed. However, Stephens is one of the quickest young movers on tour and it’s very hard to win short points against her.
The 29th seeded Stephens raced out to a 4-0 lead, but after receiving treatment on her sore shoulder, the left-handed Robson raced back to 4-4 by whipping huge groundstrokes and hustling balls down.
But even though the loud and enthusiastic crowd on Show Court 2 was firmly in the 18-year-old Robson’s corner, Stephens didn’t crack.
“I felt like I was playing an Italian player in Italy,” Stephens said. “It was crazy.”
She held to 5-4 with an ace, but then Robson broke right back to 5-5 in a marathon 16-point game, fighting off two sets points with a big serve into the body, and then she watched Stephens err on a forehand.
But the American held easily and then broke Robson to win the set when the Briton missed two forehands.
Robson continued to try and tee off in the second set, but the faster Stephens was more resourceful and began to wear her down. She broke her to 3-1 when Robson missed two more forehands, and then ably sat on the lead.
Stephens fought off a break point in the final game with a whipping forehand, and then won the match when Robson’s forehand broke down once again.
Stephens finished the contest with 22 winners, 13 off her more powerful side, to just 11 for Robson, who ended up committing a whopping 47 unforced errors.
“I'm sure I'll play Sloane a lot in the future,” Robson said. “I'm sure after today she's going to be top 20. So good for her.”
While Stephens by no means has hard a perfect tournament, she’s reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the second time in the past year. The good news is she feels that she hasn't peaked yet.
“Honestly I haven't played my best tennis,” she said.
“But sometimes it's just going to be like that. Sometimes it's going to be ugly and you just have to work your way through. It hasn't been the prettiest, but mentally it's been beautiful.”