It's the first Slam of the season and everyone is astonished and relieved to be playing at the Australian Open this year. The horrific bushfires destroyed much of the land, killing wildlife and wiping out to much of the residents' property.
The fabulous play has gone on but there are some unpredictable early round upsets. Sloane Stephens is one of them. The first round of Stephens had her opposite Shuai Zhang, a Chinese player ranked no. 35 and soon to turn 30 years old.
Zhang had played Stephens 5 times and won only a few of them. Now was her chance to prove herself. The match started off in the former U.S. Open winner's favor. She was assertive, dominated the rhythm and was in tune to the strategies used by Shuai Zhang to win the first set 6-2.
Things were looking good for Stephens in the second set and everyone was nearly ready to applaud when the score was in her favor of 5-4, but then it happened. Zhang tied the score with 5-all finding the corners and down-the-lines that Stephens couldn't read.
Zhang then aggressively went up a break and in a few striking minutes had won the second set at 7-5. It was for Stephens a drop in confidence as she dropped that set to her opponent. There was trouble predicting the Chinese woman's strategies often leaving Stephens in mid court as balls passed her by.
It that wasn't the issue it was the unforced errors but basically hitting balls out. Stephens had gotten into a funk as she trailed 0-4. There ws no getting out with even a few good complimentary strokes for her to bring a sagging game level higher.
At the end she even gave her fans hope when the games got to 2-5 with Stephens still trailing. But the Chinese lady looking so self-assured wasn't compromised a bit and kept up her fury to win the set and match 2-6, 7-5, 6-2...also her first round of the Australian Open.
It was just a few years ago that Zhang defeated Stephens again in Australia. Decades ago, Australian player Evonne Goolagong used to say it was 'the walkabouts', when a player zoned out and constantly lost. Does Sloane Stephens really have that? And if so, why when she will be a powerhouse at one set then the next, all the desire and determination runs thin and the match for them fizzles? Stephens is riding on a very slippery slope of a drop in rankings with nearly a dozen tournaments she's not made it through to the quarterfinals.
Something has to start coming together soon. The only streaks that Sloane Stephens will need now are match wins and eventually titles to improve her confidence and rankings.