MONTREAL – Sloane Stephens says she isn’t overly excited about the hard court tennis season even if it leads to the tournament that brought her biggest victory — the U.S. Open.
The 25-year-old’s career took off last September when, not long after returning from a foot injury, she won her first grand slam title with a victory over fellow American Madison Keys in New York.
Hard court tennis resumed in earnest last week in Washington, D.C., where Stephens lost in the third round to Andrea Petkovic.
She’ll go at least one round farther this week at the Rogers Cup after beating veteran Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 7-5 to reach the quarterfinals on Thursday.
But Stephens said the lead-up to the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 27, is not different this time.
“I think now, just kind of taking it all in stride, trying to play my best, compete, get a lot of matches under my belt,” she said. “I have a few goals that I still want to reach.
“I think, U.S. Open or not, if I do really great, if I do really bad, it really doesn’t matter.”
Stephens showed flashes of superior talent in recent years, but seemed to be locked in into the 20s in world rankings until a year ago. Now she sits third in the world, with a win on hard courts in Miami in March and an appearance in the French Open final, where she lost to top-ranked Simona Halep.
She will be vying for a second trip to the Rogers Cup semifinals in a row.
Stephens looked to be cruising to victory with a 5-1 lead in the second set over Suarez, but the Spaniard, a former top-10 player, battled back to tie it 5-5. But Stephens broke serve for 6-5 and then scored four straight points to put the match away, punctuating her win with and sharp cross-court forehand on match point.
“I think she just raised her game a little bit,” she said. “She started playing better.
“She called her coach out at 5-2. She started playing a little bit different. I don’t think it was a matter of, like, ‘holy (expletive), it’s going to (expletive).’ It’s just like a couple of good games that she played. Maybe the old me would have kind of freaked out. I was kind of like, ‘OK, it’s fine, she’s allowed to play well.’ Just kind of regroup. I did that. I was happy with that.”
Later Thursday, she teamed up with Genie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., to reach the doubles quarterfinals with a 6-0, 6-4 doubles win over Kirsten Flipkens and Daria Gavrilova. Neither is especially a doubles player, but Sloane and Bouchard made the most of it and their match on a sidecourt drew nearly as much attention as the singles play.
“We get along well,” said Bouchard, who lost in the first round of singles. “She’s really silly — a very light-hearted, fun person.
“We’ve known each other, like, half our lives at this point. We’re just very comfortable with each other. She hits some big forehands and I love that. Makes my life easier.”
They will next play second seeds Latisha Chan of Taiwan and Ekaterina Makarova of Russia.
In the singles quarterfinals, Stephens will face Anastaija Sevastova, who ousted 10th-seeded Julian Goerges. Sevastova, a Latvian ranked 19th in the world, won last month in Bucharest.
Two players in their second match of the day due to Wednesday’s rain delays, top-seeded Simona Halep had little trouble with 38-year-old Venus Wiliams in a 6-2, 6-2 victory.
Halep, the French Open champion who won in Montreal in 2016, will face sixth seeded Caroline Garcia of France, who ended the run of former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova with a 6-3, 6-2 win.
Ashleigh Barty, the 15th seed from Australia, also advanced to the singles quarterfinals when she defeated French veteran Alize Cornet 7-6 (3), 6-4. Kiki Bertens upset eighth seeded Petra Kvitova 6-3, 6-2 and will face Barty.
Defending champion Elina Svitolina downed Johanna Konta, who was playing her second match of the day, by 6-3, 6-4. She next faces Elise Mertens, who beat Aryna Salabanka 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-0 later Thursday.
Rain-delayed second round matches were completed after rain stopped play on Wednesday evening.
Sabalenka, a 20-year-old from Belarus, pulled off a major upset with a 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory over second seeded Caroline Wozniacki and will play Elise Mertens in the third round later Thursday.
Halep needed three hours eight minutes to down Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-6 (9), 4-6, 7-5. Halep is 8-0 in her career against the Russian and dropped a set for only the third time.
Konta completed her second round with a 6-3, 6-1 win over former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, while Williams beat Sorana Cirstea 7-6 (4), 6-4.