Sloane Stephens kept her recent domination of Victoria Azarenka going at the Mutua Madrid Open on Monday, prevailing 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 for her fourth win in a row against the former World No. 1.
After losing their first three meetings at the Australian Open in 2013, 2014 and 2015, Stephens had beaten Azarenka the last three times, all in the U.S. in 2018—at Indian Wells, Miami and the US Open.
Playing each other for the first time on clay, Stephens was in control early on, building a 6-4, 1-0 lead. But Azarenka—who’s reached the final of the Premier Mandatory event twice before, in 2011 and 2012—raised her level from there, winning six of the next seven games to take the second set.
The Belarusian almost kept that momentum going in the third set, too, bringing up double break point at 1-all and, after Stephens dug that game out, 0-30 on her 2-all service game. But the American finished strong, winning the last four games to close the match out after two hours and six minutes.
“I feel good,” the World No. 8 said in her on-court interview. “Obviously playing Vika is always a really tough match. So I just tried to play my game the best I could and I’m really pleased to get the win.”
The two players had nearly even winners on the day—Stephens 22, Azarenka 21—but Azarenka struggled with unforced errors much more in the match, hitting 40 of them compared to Stephens’s 33.
Stephens was asked afterwards about playing Azarenka away from hard courts for the first time.
“It was different. I think our games both suit clay very well, so it was going to be an interesting match-up,” she said. “Vika’s a great champion, so I’m really happy I was able to get through this match.”
The Mutua Madrid Open is Stephens’s first tournament since announcing her new coach, Sven Groeneveld. Her win over Azarenka was a second round match—in her first round she held off a late challenge from Slovenian qualifier Polona Hercog to move through in straight sets, 6-2, 7-6 (4).
“He’s a good coach,” Stephens told WTATennis.com. “I’ve known him for a really long time—he recruited me as a junior for Adidas. I think he’s a good guy, a good coach. He’s very structured and that’s what I need. I hope it goes well. I’ve needed a new coach, so I think I made a good decision.
“It’s going well so far. We’ll just have to see what happens.”
This is also Stephens’s first event since announcing her engagement to soccer player Jozy Altidore.
Awaiting Stephens in the third round will be either Alize Cornet or Zheng Saisai.