U.S. Open: Stephens d. Hampton
NEW YORK—The fuse was lit yesterday for an explosive match between two of the more successful and promising young American women, but the spark on Arthur Ashe Stadium quickly fizzled out and the much-anticipated cross between celebration and competition turned out to be a dud.
Sloane Stephens, the 20-year-old No. 16 seed, crushed 23-year-old Jamie Hampton, 6-1, 6-3.
The consolation, for those aficionados who were anticipating a better, closer match, was that it was periodically an excellent display of shotmaking (Stephens) and creativity (Hampton)—even as it was overwhelmingly a cautionary tale about the perils of neglecting tennis’ golden rule: Don’t miss the makeable shot.
The talent of both young ladies is beyond dispute. Hampton has forged her way up to No. 24 in the rankings this summer; Stephens added to her reputation as a woman who thrives in the pressure cooker of a major event. Stephens is a shadow Serena Williams, lacking only a few M.P.H. on her serve and a comparable degree of healthy aggression. Hampton is a shadow Justine Henin, equipped with all the tools and delightfully light on her feet, but plagued by a baffling tendency to lose concentration and drive every other ball over the fence or into the net.
Never was that more obvious than in the game that probably came closest to being the turning point in this decidedly one-sided match. Stephens held and immediately broke for 2-0, but Hampton broke right back with a rifled service return that forced a forehand error. Stephens broke again for 3-1, but once again struggled as she tried to consolidate the break.
In that fifth game, Stephens quickly fell behind love-40, but wiped away the first break point with an inside-out forehand winner; nothing Hampton could do about that. Stephens then fired four serves that Hampton was unable to return, three to the backhand. Stephens has a good serve, but she’s no John Isner. Hampton seemed slow to react and reluctant to attack the ball; whatever she was waiting for didn’t happen, and Stephens held and added yet another break to put the first set out of reach.
Nobody has ever accused Stephens of stepping down—hard—when she has her foot on an opponent’s throat. After two quick holds at the start of the second set, she broke Hampton again and held with ease for 3-1. The match was coming perilously close to become an embarrassment rather than an advertisement, which is when Hampton finally found her game and managed a hold, wiping away a break point with an excellent kick serve to the backhand. She wrapped up the 2-3 hold with a pair of impressive forehand winners.
Suddenly fired up, Hampton took advantage of the passive streak in Stephens' nature and played crisp tennis to break her compatriot for 3-all. It looked at that point like the tussle could turn into a real battle, but Hampton was broken again in the next game, largely because of an emblematic error.
At 30-all, the women had an excellent rally in which Hampton finally pushed the envelope with a sharp, down-the-line backhand approach shot. Stephens arrived at the ball for the forehand pass and tagged a good one. But Hampton had guessed correctly and covered the line—only to angle the high-backhand volley cross-court and out beyond the sideline. Distracted by the missed opportunity, she then made an inside-out forehand error to hand Stephens what would be the critical break.
After a quick hold by Stephens for 5-3, Hampton continued her self-destructive ways, making three mortifying errors to fall behind 0-40, surrendering the match when Sloane powdered a poor drop shot on the second of the match points.
IBM Stat of the Match: Each woman hit 12 winners, but while Stephens made just 15 unforced errors, Hampton struck a whopping 34.
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