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With seeds falling around her, Stephens pulls through

June 26, 2013 10:44 PM
With her victory Wednesday, Sloane Stephens has now reached the third round or better at her last six Grand Slam events.
On Thursday, Alison Riske will look to cement her place among the group of rising young American women with a berth in the third round of Wimbledon.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
WIMBLEDON – Sloane Stephens has not had a perfect year, but once she gets into a three-setter, she appears to have the mental fortitude of an elite player. Once again the young American pulled off a dramatic victory, this time a 7-6(2), 2-6, 8-6 win over former Top 10 player Andrea Petkovic in the second round Wednesday at the All England Club.
Stephens, who reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and the fourth round at Roland Garros, is now 8-3 in three-setters this season, and at the majors she has played like a veteran. 
On Wednesday, the German made her work hard for every point, but even though Stephens failed to serve out the match at 5-4 in the third set, she didn't get down on herself and eventually ran her elder foe into the ground.
"Sloane played great and served well in the important moments and played aggressively when she had to," Petkovic said. "I think she did a good job."
After falling in the French Open round of 16 to Maria Sharapova, Stephens went back to California for some R&R. She needed a mental break after a long clay-court season and tried to put tennis in the back of her mind. But her grandparents and their friends weren’t quite ready for that.
She went to Fresno to see her mother, Sybil, get inducted into the San Joaquin Valley Swimming Hall of Fame. While there, her grandparents, who follow her career every step of the way and even learned to use a computer to be able to watch her online, immediately brought tennis up again.
"I went to go visit my grandma and she was bringing out magazines," Stephens recalled. "'Will you sign this? Will you call my friend down the street?’ I mean, it's a little tough. I forget it easily, but others don't."
Stephens has reached the third round or better of her last six Grand Slam events, which is pretty impressive for a player her age. She’s also the youngest player in the Top 20 at No. 17, but she’s not the only one of her junior academy group to make splash at Wimbledon. She, Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig, Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard and Britain’s Laura Robson all spent time at the Florida academy of former USTA men's coach Nick Saviano. All of them, three 19-year-olds and the 20-year-old Stephens, have reached the third round of Wimbledon in impressive fashion. 
"I'm really happy for all of them," Stephens said. "It was me, Laura, Genie and Monica Puig – and [rising young American] Mallory [Burdette]. She was the mama bear of the group. Now she's oldest. Now I'm the old bear because everyone is younger than me. But I never expected that all of us in the third round of Wimbledon. That's crazy."
Stephens has a huge opportunity at Wimbledon because the two top seeds in her half – Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova – both are out of the tournament, Sharapova in defeat and Azarenka due to injury.
Stephens will play Petra Cetkovska in the next round, whom she beat at 2012 Wimbledon, but who is in good form after stomping ninth seed Caroline Wozniacki. A slew of other seeds lost, so Stephens is the third-highest seed left in the bottom of the draw, behind No. 8 Petra Kvitova and No. 15 Marion Bartoli, both of whom are in the other quarter. 
In other words, Stephens has a terrific chance to reach the final eight, and while she knows not to look beyond the next round, she has higher goals.
"I think my goal in life is to be a member of the All England Club," she said, referring to a status reserved for champions.
Riske also makes a move
Back in 2010, the then-19-year-old Alison Riske arrived at a Challenger in Nottingham, England, having never played a grass-court tournament before. She immediately took to the grass and reached the quarterfinals. The next week, she qualified for the WTA tournament in Birmingham, won four matches and pushed 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova to three sets in the semifinals, which earned her a wild card into Wimbledon.
Even though she grew up on hard courts in Pittsburgh, she loved the feel of the soft turf beneath her feet and how her balls carried through the court. Three years later, it is arguably still her best surface, even though she’s had some solid results on hard courts. 
In 2011, she won seven matches on grass. Last year, the 5-foot-9 banger sputtered a bit overall. She went deep in a couple of Challengers but was unable to score a win on the WTA main-draw level.
This season has looked much the same until she touched down on grass again. The 22-year-old reached the semifinals of USTA Challengers in Dothan, Ala., and Indian Harbour, Fla., but had not scores a WTA level win until Birmingham, where she qualified again, won four matches, including an impressive victory over world No. 26 Sabine Lisicki, and reached the semifinals before falling to eventual champion Daniela Hantuchova.
That run was impressive enough to produce a very pleasant surprise.
"I got [to] Roehampton Sunday to practice for qualifying and [Wimbledon referee] Andrew Jarrett greeted me when I got out of the car and said I had been given a wild card," Riske said. "I said, ‘You are the most amazing man ever.’ He was wonderful. And I hugged him."
On Wednesday, Riske advanced to the second round for the first time when, up 6-7(5) 7-5, 3-2 over 31st seed Romina Oprandi, the Swiss retired with a hand injury. Riske had been nervous entering the match, saying she was "freaking out" the night before and had a hard time sleeping.
So grabbing her first main draw win at a Grand Slam was very satisfying, especially at Wimbledon, where in two prior appearances she had lost three-setters to seeded players.
"I had chances before at Wimbledon but I was playing [Vera] Zvonareva and [Yanina] Wickmayer, which is tough but maybe I could have pulled those out," said Riske, who will play Urszula Radwanska Thursday in the second round. "This has been a long time coming."
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For more Pro Tennis coverage, including coverage of Americans at the 2013 Wimbledon, go to the USTA.com Pro Tennis page


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