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“Vintage Sloane”: Stephens put it all together in her straight-set US Open win over Coco Gauff
The 2017 champion put herself in the second-week conversation at Flushing Meadows again.
Published Sep 02, 2021
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“Vintage” is a term that’s usually applied to legendary Grand Slam champions in the latter stages of their careers. “Vintage Roger,” “Vintage Serena,” “Vintage Rafa”: We’ve heard those words many times over the last five or six years, when they’ve turned back the clock to their most dominant days.
But “Vintage Sloane”? That one I don’t think I’ve heard yet. That’s probably because, at 28, Sloane Stephens is hardly on the downhill slope of her career, and also because her body of work can’t compare to that of the players I just named. Stephens has won a major and been to the final of another, but sustained dominance has never been her thing.
Maybe it was the quality of her play on Wednesday night at the US Open, or maybe it was the fact that her opponent, Coco Gauff, is 11 years younger than she is. But “vintage Sloane” was the only way to describe how she dismantled her fellow American, 6-4, 6-2.
Stephens made 84 percent of her first serves, won 80 percent of those points, and faced just one break point. When she wasn’t firing her forehand into the corners for winners, she was passing Gauff with it when she came to the net. And when Stephens made a couple of bad volley errors at the start of the second set, she didn’t let them get into her head, or bring her momentum to a screeching halt, the way she sometimes can. Instead, she saved the only break point she faced with a service winner.
“I thought today obviously was a good opportunity to go out and play some good tennis,” Stephens said. ‘We know that Coco is a great player. I was looking forward to a good match. I thought that we both played well. There were times that I took my chances. I think they paid off well. I just really executed well tonight my game plan and was happy to get the win.”
Told that she had made 84 percent of her first serves, Stephens smiled and said, “I love that.”
“I knew I wanted to place a lot of first serves and get myself started early in the points,” she said. “Serving that high percentage for me is always really key just because I can get into the points and I can start off aggressive with me dictating play, which is what I want to do.”
Stephens was able to execute in all the ways that her opponent couldn't. While Gauff is ranked 43 spots higher, and has had the better season, she couldn’t match Stephens’ polish, consistency or point construction. Two of the problems that Gauff has gone a long way toward solving this year, forehand errors and double faults, were in evidence again. She double faulted to give away the only break of the first set.
Still, the most important number to remember about Gauff is her age: 17. Four years ago, when Stephens won the US Open title, a 13-year-old Gauff lost in the girls’ final. Whatever happened tonight, she has obviously come a long way—to No. 23 in the world—in those four years, and she’s going to go a lot farther in the next four, or 10, or however long it takes.
Stephens’ performance was the one that mattered. She still has all of the physical skills and talents needed to be a Top 10 player. It’s a matter of her putting them together on a regular basis again, and believing that she belongs deep in Grand Slams. Is this the tournament to give her that belief? In the next round, she could play another former champion here, Angelique Kerber, who has also been showing off some vintage form this summer. Sloane says she’s looking forward to it.