NEW YORK (Reuters) -Experience trumped youth as former champion Sloane Stephens’ deadly forehand sealed fellow American Coco Gauff’s fate 6-4 6-2 in the second round of the U.S. Open on Wednesday.
The pair appeared evenly matched early on but the 17-year-old Gauff handed Stephens a critical break with a double fault on the last point in the ninth game and never regained the momentum from her 28-year-old opponent.
In the second set, Gauff failed to convert the only break point opportunity she had against the 2017 champion, who had eight forehand winners across the one hour and six minute meeting on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“The forehand was key today,” Stephens said “I wanted to come out here and really execute and play my game.”
Stephens won the last seven points in a row, as she dominated from the baseline and had a two break advantage headed into the final game.
Stephens got 84% of her first serves in across the match. Gauff committed four double faults.
“Serving that high percentage for me is always really key just because I can get into the points and I can start off aggressive with me dictating play, which is what I want to do,” said Stephens.
The off-court friends hugged at the net after the match and Stephens heaped praise on the 23rd-ranked Gauff, a fan favourite at Flushing Meadows who reached the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros earlier this year, the best major performance of her career.
“I love Coco, I think everyone knows I love Coco,” said Stephens. “I’ve seen her game really transition and change … I know there’s going to be great things ahead for her.”
In the third round she faces either Anhelina Kalinina or 2016 champion Angelique Kerber, whose second-round match was postponed on Wednesday due to inclement weather.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; editing by Richard Pullin/Peter Rutherford)