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Sloane Stephens Unfazed By ‘Super Tough’ US Open Title Defence

The world No.3 believes not focusing on the title is key for her as she prepares for a quarter-final showdown against Sevastova.

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At this year’s US Open, third seed Sloane Stephens is relishing her latest run in New York as she continues to live up to the high expectations of her home fans.

For the second consecutive year, the reigning champion has reached the quarter-finals in Flushing Meadows. On Sunday she strolled to a 6-3, 6-3, win over Belgium’s Elise Mertens. A player who she lost to in the Cincinnati Open earlier this year. The latest clash was far from flawless from perfect performance from the American, who hit 25 unforced errors to 16 winners. A stark improvement on Mertens’ tally of 12 and 35.

“I think an American playing at the US Open is incredible. But obviously winning here, being the defending champion is crazy. Then to follow that up and do well again, I think it’s something to really get behind.” Stephens said during her press conference.
“I think the state of American tennis, women’s tennis especially, is incredible right now. I think the support is unbelievable for all American players. Just excited to be playing at a time like this.”

Stephens is bidding to become the 23rd women to defend a title in the history of the US Open and only the fourth within the past 20 years. The 25-year-old is yet to defend a title on the WTA Tour, but has won a total of six titles. Although she is keen to play down the hype surrounding the topic.

“I think defending a title is super tough. It doesn’t happen very often. I think the expectation to come in here and win the tournament is just ridiculous, like it’s you have to take one match at a time.” She said.
“Defending a title isn’t defending. If you were to play the same people in a row again and beat all of them again, that would be defending your title. When you’re playing a whole new draw, different seedings, different ranking, there’s so much that goes into it. When you go to a tournament, it starts all over again.
“I think I try not to put too much emphasis on defending the title, just try to come in and win as many matches as possible, like keep playing, keep going.”

The eagerness to play down her chances is partly due to that fact Stephens continues to find it ‘weird’ to refer to herself as a US Open champion. She entered last year’s tournament with the use of her protected ranking following a lengthy absence from the tour due to injury. Defeating Madison keys in straight sets during the final.

Flashbacks of what happened 12 months ago may be triggered in her upcoming quarter-final match. Stephens will take on Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova, who knocked out Elina Svitolina in three sets. The two players also clash at the same stage of the tournament last year. On that occasion, Stephens rallied to a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(4), win.

“I think it will be a good match. I played her in Montreal. We played a good match. Hoping to just get out there and kind of execute the same game plan. Obviously won’t be easy. Quarterfinals of a Grand Slam is always really tough. A big opportunity for both of us.” She said about the upcoming clash.

Stephens leads Sevastova 2-1 in their head-to-head.

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World No.32 Davidovich Fokina Replaces Long-Time Coach With Verdasco

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Fernando Verdasco was spotted earlier this week briefly watching Ons Jabeur play at the French Open but his focus this year is on another player.

The former top 10 player has landed a new coaching job after being hired by compatriot Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Somebody who he once played a Tour-level doubles match alongside back in 2020. Fokina has opted to stop working with Jorge Aguirre, who has been his mentor since he was a child.

The change comes after what has been a mixed start to the season for Fokina who has only managed to win back-to-back matches in two out of 11 tournaments played before the start of Roland Garros. His sole win over a top 20 player occurred at the start of 2024 when he beat Hubert Hurkacz at the United Cup.  

“I will be very brief. I have left it with Jorge (Aguirre) and I start with Verdasco, with whom I have had a good relationship for years. He has not officially retired, but I knew that he was training other players and it was time,” Fokina told reporters after beating Valentin Vacherot in the first round of the French Open.
“It was time to close a stage and start a new one. With his experience, Verdasco can help me a lot to face the games, to assume that pressure and tension of the competition.”

Verdasco has won seven ATP titles during his career and reached the semi-finals of the 2009 Australian Open. At this year’s Madrid Open, he briefly helped Jabeur whose main coach Issam Jellali was unable to attend the tournament. 

Fokina will next play Casper Ruud in Roland Garros.

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Grand Slam Quarter-Finalist Van De Zandschulp Pondering Retirement After French Open Exit

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image via https://x.com/Boticvdz/

Botic van de Zandschulp has revealed he is losing his passion for tennis and is considering retiring from the sport following his exit from the French Open on Monday.

The 29-year-old was knocked out of the tournament in straight sets by Fabio Fognini, who eased his way to a 6-1, 6-1, 7-5, victory. It is the second Grand Slam in a row where he has fallen at the first hurdle with the 2022 Wimbledon championships being the last major event where he won back-to-back matches.   

“I don’t look forward to competitions at all anymore,” Zandschulp told Dutch media.
“I have been asking myself more and more lately whether I want to continue.
“You have to do work that you enjoy. Everyone has a bad day every now and then. But if there are too many, then you have to ask yourself whether you want to continue.” 

Zandschulp has been the top-ranked player in his country with his most notable achievement being a run to the quarter-finals of the 2021 US Open. The former world No.22 is a two-time runner-up at the Munich Open but is yet to win an ATP Tour title. He has registered a total of six wins over top 10 players, including Casper Ruud and Andrey Rublev. 

However, recent difficulties on the Tour have left the Dutchman questioning if he wants to continue playing.  

“I like the training. Those are great days. But when I get up in the morning, I no longer look forward to the matches at all.” He commented.

Zandschulp’s remarks could be a reaction to his frustrating loss to Fognini. However, he confirmed that he has been considering retiring for a long time. 

“It was the worst match I have played in my life,” he said. 
“Of course, it is now fresh after the match. That plays a role in my mind, but the thoughts of quitting have been there for a long time. It is not an easy life as a tennis player. You really live your life, play thirty weeks a year and travel from pillar to post.
“If you don’t play, someone else will pass you by (in the rankings). That’s why I now play extra tournaments instead of charging myself at home.”

Zandschulp is currently ranked 102nd in the world and is scheduled to play in the French Open doubles event on Tuesday.

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“It’s Purely Psychological” – Maria Sakkari Berates ‘Unacceptable’ French Open Defeat

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Maria Sakkari - Roma 2023 (foto Francesca Micheli, Ubitennis)

Greece’s Maria Sakkari said she felt ‘intense anxiety’ before her first round match at the French Open after crashing out of the draw on Monday.  

The sixth seed suffered a shock 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, loss to Varvara Gracheva who is currently ranked 88th in the world. Sakkari produced a costly 39 unforced errors and dropped serve five times in her latest match. It is the first time she has lost her opening match at a tournament since February.  

Heading into Paris, the 28-year-old had produced encouraging results on the Tour after reaching the semi-finals in Charleston before making fourth round appearances at WTA 1000 events in Madrid and Rome. 

 “It’s the first time I don’t know what to say…” Sakkari told SDNA
“I’ve been very well these days. It was very sudden for me too, I started feeling intense anxiety before the match. I would really like to give the right answers, but all I have to say is that I have been very well these days. No matter what set I played, no matter what practice I did, everyone could see that I was fine. It’s definitely psychological, purely. It’s nothing else.” 

Since appearing in two Grand Slam semi-finals in 2021, Sakkari has struggled to make an impact at the major events. Her defeat to Gracheva makes it the fourth time she has lost in the first round of a Grand Slam since the start of last year. Overall, she has only managed to win back-to-back matches in two out of her nine most recent appearances at these tournaments. 

 “I won the first set and I kept getting nervous. My pulse was very high throughout the match, especially until the middle of the third set,” she said of her latest performance.
“I was feeling a panic, it’s not like I won the first set and relaxed. Maybe if I had broken the first game of the second set things would have been different. But what can we say now?’  
“It’s purely psychological, I’m not hiding. I will not look for excuses. I put too much pressure on myself, not to lose another game in the first or second round of a Grand Slam. Everyone around me tries to tell me that it happened in New York too, but then I recovered. However, it is not the same. I’ve recovered and I’m playing well in the other tournaments, but it’s proven that I’m not playing well in the Grand Slams. I feel it’s one thing, another thing.” 

Whilst praising her opponent, Sakkari describes her defeat as ‘unacceptable’ and hopes it will serve as a wake-up call for her.  

She now heads to the grass season with a win-loss record of 19-10 so far this year.

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