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U.S. Open: Sloane Stephens shows championship form in victory over Gauff

Danill Medvedev looks to hitting the ball back

Danill Medvedev looks to hitting the ball back to Dominik Koepfer during their Round 2 match at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Flushing Meadow Park on Wed. Sept. 1, 2021. Credit: Errol Anderson

Coco Gauff’s chance to be the next American star of the U.S. Open will have to wait another year. That’s because a former American star took her out of the tournament on Wednesday night.

Sloane Stephens, playing as confidently as she has over the last two seasons, scored an impressive second-round victory, 6-4, 6-2, as the rain pounded down on the Arthur Ashe Stadium roof.

"The forehand was key," Stephens said. "I really wanted to execute and play my game. I was able to do that well."

The first set began more as a defensive effort by both players with no game even getting to deuce until Stephens served the eighth game. She canceled out that deuce with two straight forehand rockets for winners.

Then Stephens earned herself two break points on Gauff’s serve in the ninth and after Gauff hit a forehand winner to negate the first of them, she double- faulted for the break. Gauff took Stephens to deuce, but she returned a serve long and Stephens unleashed a big forehand for the set winner.

But in the second set it was all Stephens, earning two breaks of serve with her forehand, the deceptively powerful stroke doing the damage.

This was the first time that Stephens and Gauff had met in an official match, but they have been friends since Gauff, 17, was 8 years old. While Gauff is the rising star of American tennis, the same could be said for Stephens, now 28 and the winner of the 2017 U.S. Open who has fallen back down the rankings and just now seems to be gaining traction again.

Gauff is seeded 21st and has a world ranking of 23, the highest of any American player. Stephens is ranked 66 and was unseeded here. Gauff had to rally from a set down to beat Magda Linette in the first round. Stephens had to beat her close friend Madison Keys in the opening round, whom she beat in the final for the 2017 Open.

"I love Coco," Stephens said after they exchanged a warm embrace at the net. "She’s such a great player and I feel so lucky to have seen her grow up. I’ve seen her game really transition and change. I’m really proud of the player she is. I know there is going to be great things ahead for her."

Three women, all Grand Slam champions, all veterans, all players who have been at the top of the game, are still trying to win their first U.S. Open title.

Victoria Azarenka, Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza all took another step in that direction again on Wednesday, winning matches that sent them into the third round.

Azarenka had to overcome a bit a resistance from unheralded Jasmine Paolini of Italy, 6-3, 7-6 (1). Muguruza had less to do in a 6-4, 6-2 win over Andrea Petkovic. Halep had less still in her 6-3, 6-1 victory over Kristina Kucova.

Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, has had the most success at the Open, reaching the final three times, losing to Naomi Osaka in 2020 and to Serena Williams in 2012 and 2013. Azarenka was the only player of the three to participate in last year’s Open played under strict COVID-19 protocols.

Halep saw some benefit from having her match moved to Ashe Stadium from open-air Court 17 to replace Osaka’s match after her opponent, Olga Danilovic, withdrew. Playing under the roof at Ashe meant no interruptions from the rain.

"I think in life you cannot do much without luck," Halep said. "I was very positive that I'm healthy and I can go on court 100%, and the court has changed and I could play without stopping because of the rain."

what you desire. Then the luck, if you are positive, the luck comes next to you. Like today, I was positive and I was ready to play the second round. I was like very positive that I'm healthy and I can go on court 100%, and the court has changed and I could play without like stopping because of the rain."

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