Sloane Stephens had never lost a set to Polona Hercog until Friday at Roland Garros. The two faced off for the fourth time in their careers with Stephens advancing, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. The defending finalist needed six match points to seal her spot in the fourth round.
Hercog is better than her world No. 71 ranking, but she's erratic, and a quick glance at her results in 2019 will confirm it. She started the year with three losses and then dipped down to the ITF level. She lost in qualifying in Miami, but then a few days later, pushed Simona Halep to three sets as a lucky loser. She then won her first title in seven years in Lugano before losing her first rounds (as a qualifier) in Madrid and Rome, to Stephens and Madison Keys, respectively.
In Madrid, Stephens won a very tight second set to win, 6-2, 7-6 (4). On Friday, she looked comfortably on her way to another straight-set win as she had four match points at 5-4, including a 40-0 lead. A routine win turned into anything but after that. Hercog raised her level, while Stephens sank into a more passive mode waiting for the Slovak to miss.
Stephens dropped the next three games, but recovered her momentum in the third set to race ahead 4-1. She let Hercog back in the match, but kept ahold of her lead and finally closed the match out. The 26-year-old let rip an ecstatic display of fist-pumping joy when her forehand winner landed safely away from Hercog's long reach.
The No. 7-ranked American will need to be sharper in her next match as she faces 2016 champion Garbine Mugurza on Sunday.