PARIS—On Tuesday, after her masterfully varied quarterfinal win over Daria Kasatkina, I compared to Sloane Stephens to a boxer who understood exactly when to throw a cross, exactly when to jab, exactly when to back up against the ropes and roll with the punches.
On Thursday, during her 6-4, 6-4 semifinal win over Madison Keys, another comparison to a ring-based entertainment product came to mind: Stephens’ ability to control the rallies from well behind the baseline was like a tennis version of that most mysterious of pro-wrestling moves, the “sleeper hold.” Her performance was an act of defusion so subtle that you may have been left wondering how she carried it out.
It left hardly a trace in the statistics. Stephens hit no aces and only nine winners. She made just 63 percent of her first serves, and had no winners on her return of serve. Yet she was broken only once, when she served for the match at 5-2, and she faced just three break points. Keys, meanwhile hit seven aces and 25 winners, yet was never in the match.
WATCH—Sloane Stephens reaches the French Open final: