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STEPHENS BREAKS MELBOURNE DROUGHT; SLAMS ATP FOR ZVEREV SITUATION



2017 US Open champion and current world number 44 Sloane Stephens has broken a five-year drought at Melbourne Park with back-to-back wins securing her spot in the third round.

 

After a semi-final appearance in her second trip to Melbourne in 2014, Stephens, for all her talent and firepower, has only made it out of the first round twice in the last decade and failed to do so in her last four attempts.

 

Drawn against local hope Olivia Gadecki in the first round on John Cain Arena, there were fears Stephens’ visit down under would again be short-lived as she lost the first eight points to trail 0-2. 

 

Fortunately for Stephens, and less so for the Australian, that was the end of Gadecki’s resistance as the American dominated from that moment on to win 6-3, 6-1 in 56 minutes.

 

Having broken her hoodoo, Stephens went on to dispose of Adelaide finalist and fourteenth seed Daria Kasatkina on Thursday 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 extending her head-to-head record over the Russian in their first encounter since 2021. 

 

Sealing the win with a cross-court backhand winner, Stephens let out an almighty roar signalling her arrival as a genuine threat in Australia for the first time since before the pandemic.

 

Asked whether there was any hidden message behind her celebration, Stephens had a cheeky jab at those journalists in the press room.

 

“Well, normally you guys just talk shit about me and say how flat I am and unhappy I look on the court”, Stephens said with a wry smile.  “ This is the opposite of that. So whatever emotion you want to get from that.”

 

“Yeah, just happy to be out there fighting for every point. Whatever comes out, comes out.”

 

As Stephens expressed her satisfaction at surviving a “hard-fought match” the American will be acutely aware that her section of the draw has been blown wide open following Anna Blinkova’s marathon upset win over Elena Rybakina on Rod Laver Arena on Thursday night. 

 

Stephens’ next opponent is 75th-ranked Russian Anna Kalinskaya who has had a relatively soft draw to this point. 

 

With the winner of Stephens and Kalinskaya to face either Blinkova or Italian 26th seed Jasmine Paolini, Stephens will undoubtedly like her chances to appear in her second Australian Open quarter-final, and first in 11 years, with all three other women in unfamiliar territory having never advanced beyond the third round of a grand slam to date.

 

In truth, there is a clear path to a semi-final for Stephens, also a former French Open finalist, as the loss of three-time Australian Open quarter-finalist and 5th seed Jessica Pegula leaves just one other seeded player, 12th seed Qinwen Zheng, between Stephens and the final four. 

 

A former member of the WTA player council, Stephens also had plenty to get off her chest in discussing off-court matters other players had been reluctant to address.

 

Prompted on the ever-so-slowly unfolding legal case against top ATP player Alexander Zverev, Stephens stated it is unlikely a player facing allegations such as those against Zverev would be allowed to be nominated to the Player Council for the WTA. 

 

“I think that the ATP kind of beats their own drum” she said.

 

“Yeah, they do what they do on that side. Would that happen on the WTA Tour? Probably not.”

 

Stephens was also quick to point out that given the allegations of Zverev’s conduct have lingered for three years after being first reported by American journalist Ben Rothenberg, the fact that there would appear to be no final resolution to the matter until he faces German court in May 2024 is unlikely to cause any more damage than has already occurred; irrespective of how inappropriate that is.

 

“I think there's a lot of speculation and allegations”, Stephen said.  

 

“I think at this point for the tour and for the fans it needs to be done with.

 

“I guess the ATP will then decide what they will do with their player after that.

 

“For three years no one has done anything, so I don't think another five months of waiting for a criminal trial I guess to happen is going to change much on either side.”

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