The reigning US Open champion and 13th seed, Sloane Stephens, has crashed out of the Australian Open in the first round. Stephens lost 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2 to the Chinese, Zhang Shuai. Stephens has now lost eight consecutive matches since her win over Madison Keys in the final of last years US Open.
Zhang, ranked no.35 in the world, was unlucky not to be seeded in this year’s Australian Open and suffered the consequences, having to play Stephens in the first round. Stephens played well early, holding off the strong-hitting of Zhang to take the first set 6-2 in a classy display of tennis. However, the Chinese no.2 would not go down without a fight.
The American went down a break early in the second set; however, she was able to halt the momentum of Zhang with some powerful ball striking. Stephens continued her great play, gliding around the court and racing to a 5-4 lead. However, it was clear to see that Stephens was lacking gameplay leading into this tournament as she struggled to serve the match out. Zhang played very well under immense pressure and forced a second set tiebreak. The Chinese got off to an early start in the breaker and was able to close it out, winning 7-2.
All the momentum was on Zhang’s side as she again got off to an early lead in the third set. The US Open champion gifted Zhang the double break with a nervous looking double fault to fall to a 5-2 deficit. This was too much for the young American to overcome, as the experience Zhang closed out the first-round encounter with a hold to love.
Zhang Shuai has now won her last two encounters with the rising star and will no doubt gain a lot of confidence moving forward in the Australian Open. Stephens, on the other hand, will now look to regain some better form and try to forget about her recent disappointing performances.
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