Stephens wins again
to put U.S. 2-1 up against Swiss
Arthur Kapetanakis | April 21, 2019
SAN ANTONIO – The top-ranked American woman put on a top-notch Fed Cup performance this weekend, capped off by Sunday’s 6-3, 6-2, victory over Swiss No. 1 Viktorija Golubic, to put the U.S. in command against the visiting Swiss.
Sloane Stephens single-handedly turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead for Team USA over the competition's two days. First, her Saturday result against Timea Bacsinszky leveled the tie after Madison Keys dropped the opener to Golubic. Now, on Easter Suday, her second win puts Team USA one match away from victory over Switzerland and a place in the 2020 Fed Cup World Group.
The dependable American star credited her coaching staff and teammates for helping find a winning game plan against two versatile Swiss opponents.
“It’s good to be on a team and be able to talk to everyone,” she said in an on-court, post-match interview. ADVERTISEMENT “12 brains are better than one.”
Stephens put down an early marker, fighting out of a love-40 hole in her second service game as she sunk her teeth into match. Golubic showcased her variety early, an exquisite drop shot and a booming one-handed backhand winner creating the three break points, but Stephens found her rhythm behind strong serving to hold.
"This indoor surface is a little bit tricky," she said, also referencing her opponent's unique brand of tennis. "I just had to find a way through it and fight through and execute."
The American tightened her grip on the match as the set progressed, her instinctive directional control repeatedly forcing the Swiss into difficult situations. She had her opponent on the run as she broke for 3-1 in the longest game of the match, drawing two net errors as she forced Golubic wide with aggressive, angled ground strokes.
The Swiss fought back from 4-1 to 4-3 and had three chances on serve to draw even at four, but Stephens raised her level to win five straight points and restore her break advantage.
The deuce point in that eighth game was emblematic of the high level of tennis throughout the match: each player’s first ground stroke flirted with the sideline, as Stephens cross-court return was expertly handled by a down-the-line Golubic backhand. A few punishing strokes later, Stephens got the best the scintillating rally, and she soon had the first set in hand.
As Golubic struggled to break down Stephens’ athletic defense, she began to go for more on her shots. And while she did crack 15 winners in the match to Stephens’ 17, her 30 unforced errors underscored her overall frustration.
The Swiss started set two with renewed energy, holding twice to 15 and pushing Stephens to deuce in each of her first two service games. A Stephens ace saved the only break point against her in the set, at 1-2, and spurred a final push that showed off her Grand Slam winning pedigree.
The 2017 US Open champion won the final five games of the match and dazzled during a stretch of 13 points in a row to close her weekend account with a perfect record of four sets out of four.
"I was just playing well," she said of her match-winning run. "I got into a little groove and I started playing well, and that's what happens when you get in a groove like that."
On the brink of victory, U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi elected to sub in Sonya Kenin for Madison Keys in the tie’s fourth rubber. Kenin has been a part of Team USA’s last three Fed Cup teams, including the San Antonio squad, but has yet to experience a victory on the team or individual level. She has a golden opportunity to accomplish both as she takes on Bacsinszky.
“I think the third time’s the charm,” she said with a smile at this week’s pre-draw press conference. It's now on her racquet to make sure that prediction comes true.