Serena Williams vs. Sloane Stephens: Changing of the Guard Will Have to Wait
Everyone take a deep breath and press pause on the coronation ceremony. There is no new queen in American women's tennis. The current queen is still very much enjoying her reign.
After enough hype to last a lifetime, Serena Williams and 20-year-old Sloane Stephens finally met in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday afternoon for their fourth-round match at the U.S. Open.
It was a tense, closely fought, high-quality affair. That is, until it wasn't.
After just an hour and 28 minutes, Serena waltzed into the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 6-1 victory.
The last time these two met at a Grand Slam back in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, Stephens walked away with the 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 upset over the injured but legendary Serena.
But this time, things were different. A healthy and focused Serena was too much for even an on-point Stephens to handle.
It was a statement win for many reasons. Not only did Serena get revenge from Australia, but she established herself as the top American and the one to beat—not that there was really any question about either of those things.
Stephens has a lethal forehand. When that's combined with her great side-to-side movement and athletic ability, she can rally with Serena from the baseline better than most. She is able to retrieve would-be winners and redirect them back with precision for winners of her own, something very few players have the ability to do.
Still, she's no Serena. At least not yet.
Serena is simply on another level, and she proved that again on Sunday. Her serve is the best in the women's game. Her underrated defense was fully on display against Stephens, particularly during the first set when Stephens was really playing well.
It wasn't quite an "epic," as Stephens told reporters that she thought it was going to be, but it was far from a slaughtering.
"I thought I played good," Stephens said to reporters after the match, per USOpen.org. "There were times I played some really good tennis.
"I thought she did a lot of things really well. Like I said, [Serena's] No. 1 in the world for a reason," she said. "All in all I thought she played great."
Immediately after the match, Serena told the crowd on Arthur Ashe that she was impressed with Stephens and very excited about the future of American tennis.
"How excited are we for the future of American tennis, right?" - Serena on Sloane #USopen— Power Forward (@PwrFwdNet) September 1, 2013
Of course, the tension in the relationship between Serena and Stephens has been well-documented over the past year. From the bust-up of their "mentor-mentee" narrative after their Australian Open match to the controversy that erupted after Stephens naively aired their dirty laundry in her ESPN the Magazine interview, the feud has been the talk of the tennis town.
But there was no hint of drama leading up to this match—verbally, at least. They both reached for platitudes and kept the tension on the court.
Do you think Serena will win the U.S. Open?
Sure, it's exciting to have a dynamic rivalry brewing between the top two American women, but it's important to keep things in perspective.
This time last year, Stephens was lingering around No. 40 in the world. Now she's ranked 16th and says her goal is just to get into the top 10 at the end of the year—something she has the ability to do since she was injured last fall and therefore has no points to defend. She has yet to win a single's title.
Serena, meanwhile, is the defending champion and is going after her 17th Grand Slam title this week at the U.S. Open. The two are still worlds apart.
As eager as we all are to find the next big thing, sometimes we just have to sit back and enjoy the present.
Stephens has a very bright future. But right now, there's nobody better than Serena.
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