Serena Williams faces fellow US Open champion Sloane Stephens for a place in the last 16: Will this be her…
Serena Williams faces fellow US Open champion Sloane Stephens for a place in the last 16: Will this be her first real test?
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Serena vs Stephens is live from New York on Saturday 5 September, 2pm local/7pm BST
It’s been smooth sailing for Serena Williams so far in her quest for a seventh US Open title, despite some rocky results in the build-up to the tournament. But the third seed has yet to face a real challenge.
Could Sloane Stephens be that challenge? The 2017 US Open champion is a formidable player when she’s on song, and has beaten Williams at a major before, but has lost all four of their subsequent matches. They last played five years ago, before Stephens became a major winner, however.
Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.
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Serena vs Stephens: Head-to-head
Serena Williams leads the head-to-head 5-1 with Sloane Stephens. Stephens’s solitary victory came at the Australian Open in 2013, when Stephens won 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
Since then, Williams has won all four matches they have played. Their most recent match was at the French Open in 2015 when Williams won 1-6, 7-5, 6-3.
Serena vs Stephens: Preview
A first meeting in five years between the only American players to win a Grand Slam singles title in the past decade (until Sofia Kenin won the Australian Open in January), and it feels long overdue.
When they last played at the French Open in 2015, Williams would win in three sets and go on to claim the title despite suffering from a flu-like illness throughout the tournament. It was the 20th major title of her career; Williams would go on to pick up three more in 2015-17, then go on maternity leave in 2017 before returning in 2018, making four Grand Slam finals in 2018-19. Oddly enough, however, she had already won her most recent US Open title. Glory in New York has eluded her since 2015, despite semifinal finishes in 2016-17 and reaching the final in 2018-19.
Stephens would take her own enforced career break in late 2016 when she missed the best part of a year due to a foot injury, returning to competition in July 2017 when she made one of the most remarkable comebacks in living memory, making back-to-back semifinals in Toronto and Cincinnati before winning the US Open title despite being ranked world no. 83, beating Ashleigh Barty, Venus Williams and Madison Keys on the way. Stephens would spend 2018 in the top 10, making finals at Roland Garros, Montreal and the WTA Finals, but had a poor end to 2019 when she failed to defend those points and is now down to world no. 39. Before the US Open, she had won just one of the eight matches she had played in 2020 – and that was a win over the world no. 497.
The 27-year-old has made a good start at the US Open with wins over Mihaela Buzarnescu – not quite the threat she was a couple of years ago – and Olga Govortsova, and one of the intriguing (and infuriating) things about Stephens is that form really doesn’t matter very much when it comes to her. She is quite capable of producing her best tennis out of nowhere, but it’s safe to say that we haven’t seen any sign of it for quite a while.
Williams’s travails in the build-up to the US Open have been well-documented: Each of the five matches she played went the distance, and the occasional impressive win – like the one she scored over sister Venus in Lexington – did not outweigh frustrating defeats to Shelby Rogers and Misaki Doi. Her matches so far at the US Open have been a bit uneven, but she has avoided being taken the distance, beating Kristie Ahn 7-5, 6-3 and then Margarita Gasparyan 6-2, 6-4, despite being broken when serving for the first set and then being unable to hold on to a 4-2 lead in the second.
What to expect when these two meet for the first time in five years? Stephens will play some of her better tennis, I think; twice in their past three matches she has come out firing, taking the first set with her rarely-leveraged power but being unable to sustain that kind of aggressive tennis. Williams has struggled recently when in the lead, or trying to close out matches, and Stephens can make her hit a lot of balls, but I think that Sloane – having beaten her before – has a tendency to bring out Williams’s best tennis.