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Sloane Stephens Soars Into All-American Semifinal In Paris At The French Open Tennis

Sloane Stephens of the USA plays Daria Kasatkina of Russia during their women’s quarter final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 05 June 2018. EPA-EFE/CAROLINE BLUMBERG

 

 

By Richard Pagliario

 

Sloane Stephens imposed all-court acumen setting up an all-American semifinal in Paris.

 

Playing dynamic combinations, a sharp Stephens surged through eight of the last nine games outclassing Daria Kasatkina, 6-3, 6-1, soaring into her first Roland Garros semifinal.

 

The 10th-seeded Stephens stormed into her third major semifinal setting up a US Open final rematch with good buddy Madison Keys.

 

Madison Keys of the USA plays Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania during their women’s round of 16 match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 03 June 2018. EPA-EFE/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO

No. 13-seeded Keys fought back from a 3-5 deficit rallying past Yulia Putintseva, 7-6 (5), 6-4, into her third consecutive major quarterfinal and third career Grand Slam semifinal.

 

Stephens sat side-by-side with Keys after sweeping the all-American US Open final last September.

 

The friends will face off with a trip to the French Open final on the line.

 

“I’m super excited,” Stephens told Tennis Channel’s Justin Gimelstob afterward. “Every time I get to play Maddie, it’s great. She’s my best friend on tour. It’s unbelievable for American tennis (to have) two Americans in the French Open semis. So I think we’re doing good.”

 

The Stephens-Keys clash is the first all-American women’s semifinal in Paris since 2002 when Serena Williams defeated Jennifer Capriati before stopping sister Venus in the final to win her first French Open.

 

It’s the first time since 1999 two American women not named Williams contested quarterfinals in Paris.

 

Patiently probing the Russian, Stephens kept moving the ball side-to-side. Stephens played cleaner tennis than the cagey Kasatkina, serving 82 percent, converting five of seven break points and smacking seven more winners.

 

The US Open champion rattled out errors from the jittery Kasatkina, breaking at love for 3-1. Stephens navigated a deuce hold to extend the lead in the fifth game.

 

Working her way into rallies, Kasatkina began playing with more control.

 

The Indian Wells’ finalist hit behind Stephens to open the court, drawing an errant backhand to break back in the seventh game.

 

The eighth game was the pivotal point in the match. Kasatkina opened a 40-love lead and had seven game points, but could not close a stubborn Stephens.

 

In an engaging 27-shot rally, Kasatkina crafted a clever drop shot-volley combination to save it.

 

Undaunted, Stephens stepped around a backhand and smacked a diagonal forehand for a second break point that caused coach Kamau Murray to leap from his seat with a clenched fist.

 

Dragging a forehand error, Stephens snatched the 10-minute battle of wills breaking for 5-3.

 

Sloane Stephens of the USA reacts as she plays Daria Kasatkina of Russia during their women’s quarter final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 05 June 2018. EPA-EFE/CAROLINE BLUMBERG

“I just hung tough,” Stephens said. “Obviously, in the first set I was a little nervous, a little shaky. I wasn’t being as aggressive as I wanted to… to break that game was really big.

 

“I knew I gotta get back in and gotta start swinging, keep fighting, keep fighting. I got my opportunity. I got a break point and just kind of went for it.”

 

Lingering frustration erupted as Kasatkina bounced her racquet off the red clay then spit up successive forehand errors.

 

A late surge propelled Stephens to a one-set lead after 40 minutes.

 

A highly creative player, Kasatkina combines clever court sense, a heavy topspin forehand, and multi-faceted backhand with a pickpocket’s feel. Kasatkina caressed a fine drop volley winner in the third game.

 

One of the WTA Tour’s best ball strikers on the move, Stephens showed that skill curling a crosscourt forehand on the run breaking for 2-1 just 12 minutes into the second set.

 

Striking on balance, Stephens seldom looked rushed today.

 

Repelling the Russian’s attempts to break down her backhand, Stephens played with plenty of spin off both wings, played patient crosscourt combinations and basically carved up ball-control artist Kasatkina. Stephens surged through a love hold backing up the break for 3-1.

 

Sliding near the doubles alley, Stephens spun a clean forehand crosscourt scoring her fourth service break for a commanding 4-1 lead.

 

Even when she summoned magic, Stephens wasn’t engaged in elaborate celebrations.

 

A simple fist pump toward her mom and coach and back to work rolling through another love hold for 5-1.

 

A cranky Kasatkina pasted a weary forehand into net to face match point. Stephens slid another clean crosscourt forehand closing a 6-3, 6-1 sweep with her signature shot.

 

The 25-year-old Stephens stopped Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko in the Miami Open final to claim her sixth career title. She now stands one win from a trip to the French Open final.

 

Stephens has won both prior meetings with Keys; this will be their first career clash on clay.

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