Sloane Stephens' comeback: rising to the top!- View: 1775 by GALE MOORMAN
Tennis enthusiasts all know that Germany's Angelique Kerber climbed her way up to the number one spot in the WTA rankings and traded no. 1 spots back and forth with Serena Williams. She is now number three but Sloane Stephens is over 900 because of injuries and looks at her days of lackluster court performances a thing of the past.
Since coming back after surgery with a stress fracture in her foot this past January, she has brought up her game to an all-time extravaganza especially at this Rogers Cup. Stephens' first round at the Canadian event in Toronto, she won nicely defeating Yulia Putintseva in three sets, the first being a tie-breaker.
Then she moved on to the second round with her opponent, another comeback trail lady from an injured hand, Petra Kvitova. She is doing remarkable stuff not only being able to play, but winning and enjoying tennis again. But then came Stephens, who was victorious over her, winning a first set tiebreaker, getting a bit sloppy in the second and then winning the last set to get the match 7-6, 3-6, 6-2.
Afterwards Stephens modestly said that "It's been really tough, I'm slowly working my way back in". It's nice to be modest, but gret to be accurate and when she faced Angelique Kerber in the third round, Stephens taught the German a lesson in cross courting, volleying, getting those first serves in and being aggressive; things that Kerber knows but had trouble executing.
Fans could only keep their eyes glued onto the court action, not believing the dynamics that the once injured-foot lady showed. It was really unbelievable to Stephens' coach Kamau Murray that all of the instructing and talking has paid off.
She was performance perfect and won over Kerber in just under an hour, this time not even dropping a set and closing the match at 6-2, 6-2. "It's been a long road and I'm glad to be playing some good tennis", Stephens smilingly said.
She was pure magic and as some say 'you're only as good as your last stance'; well Stephens' last stance was excellent. But her next opponent as she swung into the quarterfinals was Czech Lucie Safarova, a no-nonsense lady with singles titles and a great resume of doubles crowns with recuperating Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
This quarterfinal was like a tennis theatrical performance, having a bit of drop shots, long rallies, a few painting-of-the-lines and high quality strokes. The first few games was all Stephens as she made her winning point sting.
She had an injured foot but never showed poor footwork. She'd hit the perfect drop shot, a net cord falling in at the right spot and time. Stephens hustled over the court coming up with slices and spinning shots that brought the score to 3-1, 30-love in her favor.
She became expert at marking her spot and going for it with perfection. But Safarova was no lady chump and she also kept her tone on many points with passing shots but gotten only two games as Stephen took the first set 6-2.
The second set had a flip-flop of emotions and strategies. Safarova was more defensive after the end of set one, but in a few minutes the score was 4-1 in the Czech's favor. Where did the fiery Stephens go? Kamau Murray, her coach came on court and had a short discussion but it didn't sink in until the beginning of the last set after Safarova captured the second one at 6-1.
The third and deciding set was the important one to tell the tale and neither one wanted to lose. Stephens put her foot to the metal and lead 3-1 in a few minutes as she worked Safarova side-to-side, keeping her back and then hitting up a passing shot that stung the Czech doubles specialist many times.
As the set got to 5-4 they both see-sawed for 15 minutes leaving Safarova at times noticeably breathless but brought the score to 5-all. The Czech grew more weary and Stephens more aggressive pushing her opponent back, giving passing shots bring the game to 6-5.
It was only a matter of time before she had gotten four more points and had won the two hour match 6-2, 1-6, 7-5; dripping with perspiration a brief on-court interview, Stephens told it like it was giving a broad smille and said "On the match points I tried to play solid...this is only my third time at bat and I hope I keep it going through to the Open".
She now heads solid to the semis of the Rogers Cup, a position she never though she'd be in or a tournament she would have only dreamed of nearly six months ago of playing well and grateful to be able to play again. .