Ivanovic ends Stephens' run in third round
NEW YORK -- Sloane Stephens didn't want to play on Arthur Ashe Stadium court until she had earned her place on that hallowed ground. Fair enough. After winning her first two matches at the U.S. Open, she got her match on Ashe.
But when she finally made it to center court, the experience turned out to be more daunting than she could have imagined.
"I went out and I played, I did the best that I could to fight nerves," Stephens said after a 6-3, 6-4 loss to No. 16 seed Ana Ivanovic Saturday night. "It wasn't my day. I didn't play as well as I would have liked, obviously. Everything kind of got to me at the end. I tried to fight it as best I could.
"Definitely playing on Ashe is a big stage, it's a big place," said Stephens, who is ranked No. 106. "Your first time is always tough."
It wasn't the debut she might have wanted, but Stephens left the impression she's going to be back on center stage someday soon.
One of a handful of talented teens playing at this year's U.S. Open, Stephens, 18, helped make the first week of the tournament a coming-out party for the youth movement of American tennis.
Stephens, Christina McHale, 19, and Irina Falconi, 21, all made it to the third round, with 16-year-old Madison Keys posting a first-round victory and hinting at the potential for greatness.
Following her third-round victory over No. 4 seed Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams, 29, is the only U.S. woman remaining in the draw. But with the emergence of the other U.S. women, Serena could soon have American company in the second week of majors.
In August, Stephens reached the quarterfinals of a WTA event in Carlsbad, Calif., for the first time, and beat a top 20 player there as well when she topped then-No. 20 Julia Goerges of Germany. But Ivanovic represented a step up in competition for Stephens; the Serb was ranked No. 1 for 12 weeks in 2008 and won the French Open that year. Although Ivanovic has not played at that level since, she has not lost to a player ranked lower than No. 100 in three years, either.
Ivanovic pulled out to a 5-1 lead in the first set and looked to be on her way to dominating a seemingly overwhelmed Stephens. But Stephens settled and rallied to close it to 5-3 and had three break points for the chance to get back on serve. Stephens couldn't convert, though, as Ivanovic closed out the set.
The second set was closer, but at 4-4, Ivanovic broke Stephens' serve to go ahead. Ivanovic held on her serve to close out the match.
"I knew I had to be aggressive," Ivanovic said. "She's very dangerous. Big forehand. It was a tough match."
The prize for Ivanovic, who has never advanced past the fourth round at the U.S. Open? A match with Williams, who is seeded No. 28 but is the overwhelming favorite to win her fourth career U.S. Open.
The reward for Stephens? An experience she won't forget the next time she's there.
"I'm glad I got it out of the way," she said, "and maybe next year I'll get the opportunity to play on Ashe again and see how it goes."