Thirteenth seed Sloane Stephens has overcome a shaky start to progress to the fourth round of Australian Open 2014 – and a possible match up with the defending champion.
Facing Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, Stephens needed a powerful first set comeback to secure her berth in the last 16, as she eventually won the match 7-5 6-4.
It was an up-and-down beginning for Stephens, who broke the Ukrainian’s serve in the early going, but after holding serve to lead 3-1, saw her momentum thwarted by her 19-year-old opponent at Margaret Court Arena.
Svitolina worked her way into the set, breaking Stephens’ serve to love, and leveling the contest at 3-3 after winning two 13-shot rallies on one of her own service games.
After trailing by two-games early, the up-and-coming right-hander had a 5-3 lead and chance to serve for the opening set.
But Stephens didn't give in against the world No.47, and pounced on an unforced error at the net by Svitolina to break and earn her own opportunity to serve for the opening set.
The 20-year-old American made no mistake after working so hard to get back into the set, holding serve to wrap up the opening set 7-5 in 42 minutes.
Stephens continued her charge in the second set with an early break resulting in a 2-0 lead.
Svitolina matched her higher-ranked opponent in periods, but was at times overwhelmed by the American world No.13, while frustrated by her own errors.
Stephens produced 14 forehand winners, six of them in the opening set as she came from behind. Her advances to the net were also positive experiences, with 10 of her 13 ventures successful.
Svitolina continued to battle in the second set, but Stephens always looked in control and sealed her performance by serving out the match to love.
In terms of her next match, Stephens didn’t want to know her opponent.
It will likely be a fourth round clash with Victoria Azarenka, with the No.2 seed and defending champion who meets Austrian Yvonne Meusburger at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night.
But with Stephens looking stronger and stronger as the tournament goes on, she can enter that match with confidence.
“It’s going well so far, and I’m still winning so that’s good,” said Stephens of her 2014 Australian Open campaign.
The expected lower temperatures as the tournament heads into its second week will also help, with less of a toll on the body of Stephens.
“The body is going well and I feel like I am playing at home,” added the American, referring to the cooler conditions on Saturday.
All the signs are positive for Stephens as she looks to improve on her semifinal appearance in Melbourne in 2013, but she’ll be well aware that it was Azarenka that ended her run last time out.