Sloane Stephens’ defense of her 2017 U.S. Open title ended on Tuesday in the quarterfinals. Anastasija Sevastova, the 19-seed from Latvia, stunned Stephens with 6-2, 6-3 victories in straight sets. Sevastova will be advancing to her very first Grand Slam semifinal.
Sevastova looked rocky in the first set, but took advantage of uncharacteristically slow play from Stephens and won the first set 6-2. Stephens was on the ropes early in the second set with a deficit of 2-0, but started to make a comeback. After she won her first game of the second set, she let out a triumphant, Serena Williams-esque roar. It looked like things might be turning around.
But then Stephens dropped the next game, and the the next one. She was finally able to answer back with a win in the sixth game to bring her to 4-2, though that also came with a language warning from the umpire. She got closer to Sevastova with a win in the seventh game, looking more like the Sloane Stephens everyone expected to see. She tried to take that momentum into game eight, but missed several opportunities to tie Sevastova — including a heartbreaker after a 14-shot volley that saw Stephens hit it into the net. The advantage went back and forth, with Sevastova finally winning and going up 5-3. Sevastova sealed the upset a game later.
Overall, Stephens looked tired and low-energy. The Open announcers said that she was battling a cold, and the absolutely stifling conditions weren’t helping her energy level. Her footwork wasn’t quite as sharp as normal, and she had told the announcers at one point that she wasn’t playing at 100%. It showed on the court, with her giving up on drop shots and bending over to lean on her thighs during brief breaks between serves.
That both players didn’t completely collapse from the extreme heat is a triumph in itself — play at the junior level was suspended due to the conditions, but the adult circuit has a higher heat threshold to suspend play. Stephens played the second set with the sun pounding down on her, and the announcers said that only three games all tournament had been won in the sun.
Sevastova, who has retired and made a comeback in her career, has been to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam three times, but never to the semifinals. Now that she’s avenged her loss to Stephens last month in Montreal, she will face the winner of the match between Serena Williams and Karolína Plíšková, which will be played Tuesday night.
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