NEW YORK — It was quite a point, one that showed off the best of Sloane Stephens’ versatile game, and so a reporter began recounting what happened to the defending U.S. Open champion after she won Sunday night to get back to the quarterfinals.
Stephens interrupted. She did not think the retelling did it justice. At all.
“You are not describing that point good. But I know what you’re talking about,” Stephens said, then proceeded to give her own play-by-play.
“She hit a drop shot. I hit a drop shot back. Then she lobs me to my forehand. I ran back and hit a forehand cross-court — and the crowd went crazy,” she said. “You didn’t describe it like that. You were getting lost in there. I think that was a great point.”
Certainly was. And that chase-down, tunaround, hook-shot of a passing winner just showed a glimpse of how the No. 3 Stephens can go from defense to offense with flair, as she did repeatedly during her 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 15 Elise Mertens of Belgium in the fourth round.
There were other, similar efforts of that sort by the 25-year-old American. Not that she works on those kinds of improvisational moves while training.
“Never, never, never. I’m the type of person, if the ball goes over my head, I’m like, ‘Whatever,’ in practice. I don’t practice that. I think it makes it unnatural. It makes you try to do too much if you’re practicing trick shots. I don’t know how (Nick) Kyrgios and guys like that do it,” Stephens said.
“Just like I always say: Get your racket on it. Make a play on the ball. Make your opponent play an extra ball. That’s the most important thing to me,” she continued. “Sometimes it doesn’t have to be the best shot, but making them play another shot, you might get another opportunity. I worked really hard on that instead of trying to hit a trick shot or do fancy stuff. Just simple: Make them play an extra ball and see what happens.”
Sure worked against Mertens.
Next match, Stephens can employ that strategy against No. 19 Anastasia Sevastova of Latvia. It’ll be a rematch of last year’s U.S. Open quarterfinal, won by Stephens in a third-set tiebreaker.
It’s the third time in a row Sevastova made it to the final eight at Flushing Meadows.
“There’s a pattern maybe, because,” she said, “because some tournaments I play always good.”