PARIS—Sloane Stephens’ 70-minute, 6-3, 6-1 win over Daria Kasatkina on Wednesday was a briefly fascinating duel and a quietly masterful performance, both of which were wrapped in the scores of a routinely one-sided result.
The match, despite its brevity, went through three stages. For the first three games, the American and the Russian engaged in a traditional feeling-out process, like two boxers dancing through the opening two rounds before daring to throw a punch. But in the fourth game, Kasatkina left her guard down with a couple of unforced errors. Stephens, as is her specialty, landed a quick jab—in this case, it was a devastating forehand—to break serve.
From there, the match entered its briefly-fascinating-duel phase. For the next five games, Stephens and Kasatkina showed each other everything—every feint, hook, parry, cross, and uppercut—that they had in their repertoires.
Stephens held for 4-1 with two powerful service winners. Kasatkina answered in the next game with a forehand winner and a backhand winner to hold. At 2-4, the Russian dipped into her bag of tricks for the first time with a deftly disguised drop-lob combination, and broke serve by out-steadying Stephens in a long baseline rally. When Kasatkina went up 40-0 at 3-4, it looked as if she was fully engaged and in her element. She ranged far behind the baseline to defend, before turning the rallies around with aggressive forehands into the corners. Now, it seemed, we had the easy-power versus easy-finesse that we had hoped to see from this match.
WATCH: Match point from Stephens' win over Kasatkina: