Sloane Stephens, 21, is one of the brightest young talents in women's tennis. Although she doesn't have a WTA singles title yet, she has played particularly well at Grand Slam tournaments.
That is, until Monday's opening-round match at Wimbledon, where Maria Kirilenko of Russia eliminated the 18th-seeded Stephens in a 6-2, 7-6 (8-6) upset.
The Championships' official Twitter account noted how steady Stephens had been in advancing deep in tennis' marquee tournaments:
On the grass courts of the All England Club, even the most formidable contenders aren't safe. Odd bounces on the unique surface can be difficult to adjust to, but credit should go to Kirilenko for how well she played.
Kirilenko may not be seeded, but as The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg pointed out during the match, she has been near the top of the sport before:
Maria Kirilenko was top 10 at #Wimbledon last year. Now out of the top 100, low on confidence but playing well--up 4-2 on Sloane Stephens.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 23, 2014
The key stat of the opening set was that Stephens hit 73 percent of her first serves in play, according to Wimbledon.com, yet only managed to win half of those points. She had one chance to break Kirilenko and didn't convert.
A shaky ratio of winners to unforced errors (15-13) wound up being Stephens' undoing in the decisive set. She pushed Kirilenko to a tiebreaker and even fought off six of seven break points in the second—including five match points before the tiebreak:
Sloane Stephens saves FIVE match points, holds to force a second set tiebreak vs Maria Kirilenko. #Wimbledon— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 23, 2014
It still was not enough to prevent a determined Kirilenko from notching a straight-sets victory. This tweet from Stephens earlier in the week now appears prophetic in light of Monday's outcome:
Life is so ironic. It takes sadness to know happiness, noise to appreciate silence, and absence to value presence.— Sloane Stephens (@sloanetweets) June 21, 2014
Stephens has been as high as 11th in the rankings, but she has just a 16-14 record for the 2014 season. The young American has plenty of time to turn it around, but it is discouraging that she can't string together better results given her all-court ability.
As for Kirilenko, this has to be a huge confidence boost. Tumbling in the rankings led to this unfavorable draw in London. Now Kirilenko will face Shuai Peng of China, who defeated Great Britain's Johanna Konta 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
Kirilenko, 27, reached a career-high ranking of No. 10 in June 2013. She has a great chance to advance to the third round after this breakthrough.