US Open Day 9 | Stephens finds her way into semi-finals
Sloane Stephens kept US hopes of an all-American set of semi-finals alive after downing Anastasija Sevastova in a third-set tiebreak, 6-3 3-6 7-6(4).
Many would have written off Sloane Stephen’s chances of a good run at the US Open, except the player herself, who is enjoying the thrill of being back on a tennis court again.
She was confined to a wheel chair a while back and, just earlier this year, graduated from sitting to, as Stephens says, ‘walking around on that peg leg thing’.
I obviously wasn't happy to get injured. But it was a good lesson for me. It was a good time to be able to take a break, get my health in order, then just kind of reevaluate my whole entire situation, come back a better player and better person." Sloane Stephens
That is where the 24-year-old was just six months ago, sitting out WTA Tour action and recovering from the severe stress fracture that required foot surgery, followed by months of rehabilitation.
The talented American’s ranking plummeted all the way to No 957, but she now is back up, and winning.
She surged to consecutive semi-finals at the prestigious Rogers Cup in Toronto and the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati by upending the likes of Grand Slam champions Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber.
She is No 83 now, with 13 wins in her last 15 matches, becoming just the seventh player outside the top 50 to reach the US Open women’s semi-finals since the rankings began in 1975.
Her only previous Grand Slam semi was at the Australian Open four years ago.
After that serious foot injury that kept her off the tour for 11 months, Stephens has suddenly rebooted her career.
“I obviously wasn’t happy to get injured,” said Stephens.
“But it was a good lesson for me. It was a good time to be able to take a break, get my health in order, then just kind of reevaluate my whole entire situation, come back a better player and better person.”
In reaching the second week at the US Open, her first wins in Flushing since 2014, Stephens defeated the 2015 finalist, Roberta Vinci, No 11 seed Dominika Cibulkova, Ashleigh Barty, a young Aussie having her own breakthrough year, and No 30 Julia Goerges.
With Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe and Venus Williams all in separate quarter-finals, there is now a chance to guarantee a champion from the United States, although there is still plenty of work for the others to do.
Sevastova, meanwhile, was denied the chance to compete in the last-four of a major for the first time in her career, and she could not have been much closer to breaking that duck.
The vanquisher of Maria Sharapova, the Ukrainian was the 16th seed and therefore the match favourite.
Sevastova has been to the quarters before, losing to losing to Caroline Wozniacki last year.
The Latvian’s best win by ranking also came at last year’s US Open, when she beat world No 3 Garbage Muguruza.
She also missed significant time away from the tour due to various injuries and illnesses between 2011 and 2013, forcing her to temporarily retire in 2013.
“Because of almost three years of continuing illnesses, injuries and the related problems, I don’t see myself carrying on in this complex sport at the highest possible level,” Sevastova said in a statement at the time.
The Latvian un-retired herself in January of 2015 after missing nearly two years of professional competition, and has a good run at Grand Slams since.
It was to be Stephen’s day, and she now has a shot of reaching a first Grand Slam final.
She looked to have learned from Sharapova’s defeat at the hands of Sevastaova in the previous round, reining in her power after a timid opening service game, and beginning to move forward whenever possible.
Sixteen trips to the net and two breaks of serve helped Stephens to the first set, and Sevastova’s hopes appeared further damaged when she had a medical timeout for attention to her leg.
However, the Latvian resumed in more measured fashion, cutting her errors from 18 in the opening set to six as she clinched the second.
She then moved ahead in the third, breaking on her way to a 3-1 lead but, after a gruelling hold from Stephens, she pulled herself back into contention in the decider with a break.
Stephens was now struggling on serve, making less than 50% of first serves, and a woeful smash seemed to signal the end as she fell 3-1 behind.
A gripping conclusion saw the American level at 3-3, the pair swap service breaks and then hold impressively on their way to a decisive tiebreak.
It was Stephens who made the running, and the pressure told as three errors from Sevastaova left the American with match point, converted as she drilled a backhand down the line.
“I just told myself to keep fighting,” added Stephens.
“I’d been playing so well and so consistent, I knew if I stuck with it I’d have a chance, and that’s what I did.”
The American had looked the stronger player at the start of the match and dominated proceedings to take the first set, with her opponent forced to take a medical timeout for attention to her left quad and looking increasingly distressed.
Sevastova tends to wear her heart on her sleeve but in dumping Sharapova out in the last-16 has already proven she is not one to lie down easily and she fought back bravely to levell the match up.
Her joy was short-lived, though, as the 16th seed moved ahead again but the American showed real resolve to keep herself alive and force a deciding set tiebreak before winning the contest.
“Oh man, I’m getting teary-eyed,” said Stephens in an interview on the court after the match.
.”I think my coach is probably crying.
“When I started my comeback at Wimbledon, I could have never even dreamed of something like this happening, having these results.
“Making the semi-final of my home Slam, it’s indescribable.
“I just told myself to keep fighting.”
Her task to reach the final will be a difficult one, with Williams or Petra Kvitova lurking in the semi-finals.
The pair meet later on Day 9, with two-time champion Williams looking to stop the Czech reaching the last-four in New York for the first time.