Sloane Stephens downs Coco Gauff in their first meeting since a birthday party seven years ago

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USA TODAY 01 September, 2021 - 09:30pm 11 views

Are the Williams sisters playing in the US Open?

Serena and Venus Williams aren't at US Open, but their presence is seen and felt everywhere. NEW YORK — Coco Gauff sat in an interview room in Flushing Meadows on Monday night, fresh after defeating her opponent, Magda Linette, in three sets. usatoday.comSerena and Venus Williams aren't at US Open, but their presence is seen and felt everywhere

Sloane Stephens bests Coco Gauff in highly anticipated US Open showdown

New York Post 01 September, 2021 - 08:25pm

“It’s like a good place,” Stephens said. “It’s a happy place.”

It remained that way for the 28-year-old in the second round of the U.S. Open on Wednesday night.

In a heavily anticipated matchup against close friend and fellow American Coco Gauff, Stephens looked nothing like the player who had recently fallen on hard times. She was consistent, her forehand was overpowering and her first-serve percentage (83 percent) was high. The result was a surprisingly easy, 6-4, 6-2 victory for the unseeded Stephens over the 21st-seeded teenager, and perhaps a sign that she is ready to put her disappointing recent past behind her.

“Obviously coming out of the pandemic, it was [a] rocky road. I think for everyone it hasn’t been too consistent for anyone,” said Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, who also reached the quarterfinals here the following year. “I think you’ve just got to ride the wave. It’s kind of coming together, which is nice.”

Stephens entered the Open ranked 66th in the world. She had been eliminated by the second round in nine of the previous 14 tournaments she participated in this year. But Stephens survived a three-set thriller in the first round against fellow American Madison Keys and she wasn’t tested Wednesday night, winning 39 of 49 points on her serve.

“I think the pressure is a little bit different when you play two people that you know well,” Stephens said, referring to Gauff and Keys. “It’s a different type of pressure. Obviously playing here at the U.S. Open and playing Americans, it’s very different. But I’m really happy with the two wins. I played good tennis to get them. I mean, it’s still only the third round of a slam so I have to keep going. But it’s nice to know that I was able to get those two wins with all the pressure and outer things happening.”

Her victory could set up a massive fourth-round showdown against third-seeded Naomi Osaka, assuming both women take care of their third-round matches first. Stephens will face the winner of the match between No. 16 Angelique Kerber and Anhelina Kalinina next.

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. Both performed apropos of their age, which was a good thing for Stephens, but clearly not something the 17-year-old Gauff expected in her first match against her close friend.

“Obviously I have a lot of respect for Sloane, looked up to her for a while, known her since I was little,” Gauff said. “But I don’t think our relationship affected the match. … She definitely was the better player tonight.”

Stephens took the first set in a brisk 34 minutes, making the most of her one opportunity at a break point. Gauff double-faulted, giving Stephens the needed break. Stephens followed through by serving for the set, once again using her big forehand to force a Gauff error, of which there were 25 in the match.

In the opening set, Stephens’ serve was particularly strong and she held at love twice. The one time she was challenged 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 66-minute match to advance with relative ease.

Considering the dearth of American women left, and the absence of Serena and Venus Williams due to injury, it seems likely Stephens will play on the Ashe court for as long as she remains alive in the tournament.

“It’s nice to have that [comfortable] feeling, those moments to look back on,” she said.

Early on in this U.S. Open, Stephens is creating even more of them for herself.

Gauff-Stephens U.S. Open Matchup Another Sign of the Williams Legacy

The New York Times 01 September, 2021 - 01:18pm

Neither Venus nor Serena Williams entered the U.S. Open this year. But their influence in the women’s singles tournament is clear.

When Sloane Stephens and Coco Gauff face off on Wednesday night at the U.S. Open, their drawing power as young Black women in Arthur Ashe Stadium will be just the latest showcase of the legacy of the sisters Venus and Serena Williams.

Neither Williams sister is competing at this year’s tournament because of injuries — the first time both sisters are absent from Flushing Meadows since 2003. But their presence is clear throughout the tournament even though they aren’t in the field.

When Venus Williams broke through to her first U.S. Open final in 1997, she was the first Black woman to do so in nearly 40 years. Now, success by Black women in the tournament is the norm. In the four women’s singles tournaments from 2017 through 2020, six of the eight slots in the finals were filled by Black players. Naomi Osaka won the tournament twice — including in 2018 against Serena Williams — and Stephens beat Madison Keys for the title in 2017. Serena Williams also made the final in 2019.

Stephens beat Keys in the first round on Monday in a rematch of their 2017 final, leading to her showdown with Gauff in the second round.

Gauff, 17, had not been born the last time the U.S. Open was without either of the Williams sisters. She said that when she was younger, her father “spent a lot of money” on front row tickets at Ashe to watch the Williamses up close.

“Since I was 8 years old, pretty much every year coming — to watch them really,” Gauff said. “That’s probably the only reason why we spent so much money on tickets and travel, is to watch them play.”

Stephens, 28, has not been particularly close to the Williams sisters even though she looked up to them as a child. But she has formed a bond with Gauff, who grew up near Stephens in Florida.

“The evolution of her game has been really awesome,” said Stephens, who said she had known Gauff since Gauff was 8 and calls her “Cocofina” as a nickname.

“To be as established as she is now is super inspiring, super awesome,” Stephens said. She added: “She has a lot of amazing things she does in her game. Obviously she’s young so she still has things to work on, but I think she’s a very established player with great things in her game.”

Gauff said that facing Stephens at the U.S. Open would be a “full-circle moment.”

“I’ve known her for a long time, so I don’t even know what the first memory is,” Gauff said of Stephens. “I do remember when I was 10 years old, I had a birthday party at a water park, and she came to it, which is really cool. All my friends were excited that Sloane Stephens is at your birthday.”

Gauff reached the final of the 2017 U.S. Open junior tournament when she was 13, the year in which Stephens won the top singles title.

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