As part of her 10th birthday party, Coco Gauff got to meet Sloane Stephens. This reunion wasn’t nearly as enjoyable seven years later.
Both played like their age, which was a good thing for the 28-year-old Stephens, but clearly not something Gauff envisioned. The result was a surprisingly easy, 6-4, 6-2 victory for Stephens at Arthur Ashe Stadium, and perhaps a sign that she’s ready to put her disappointing recent past behind her.
Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion who also reached the quarterfinals here the following year, has fallen far over the past two years, entering this tournament ranked 66th in the world. Of the 14 tournaments she has entered this year, she has been eliminated by the second round in nine of them.
“The forehand was key today. I wanted to come out there and really execute, and play game, and I was able to do that well,” Stephens said in her on-court interview.
But Stephens survived a three-set thriller in the first round against fellow American Madison Keys, and she wasn’t tested on Wednesday night. Her victory could set up a massive fourth-round showdown with Naomi Osaka, provided both women take care of their third-round matches first.
Gauff, meanwhile, equaled her worst showing in a grand slam tournament this year after failing to get past the second round of the Australian Open as well.
In a brisk 34 minutes, Stephens took the first set, making the most of her one opportunity at a break point. After Gauff double-faulted, giving Stephens the needed break, she followed through by serving for the set, once again using her big forehand to force a Gauff error, of which there were 13 in that first set.
Stephens’ serve was particularly strong in the opening set, holding at love twice. The one time she was challenging on her serve, Stephens ripped a precise crosscourt forehand winner to pull even at four games apiece. After fighting off a break point early in the second set, Stephens cruised from there, reeling off the final five games of the match.