Stephens beats Hampton in clash of young U.S. elite

June 24, 2013 05:49 PM
Sloane Stephens beat fellow American Jamie Hampton in the opening round of Wimbledon.
By Matt Cronin, special to

LONDON - Facing your countrywoman in the first round of a Grand Slam is never easy and at least in the near future it is unlikely that will occur again between Sloane Stephens and Jamie Hampton given their high rankings, but on Monday at Wimbledon, they did compete in a high level clash, which was grabbed by a brilliant Stephens 6-3, 6-3.
"It's tough, but at least someone from the U.S. will be in the second round," Stephens said.
Hampton had come off a fine week in Eastbourne, having reached her first WTA final and came to Wimbledon with a career high ranking of No. 25. However, because the seedings were done last week when Hampton was only ranked inside the top 45, she wasn't seeded so was placed across from No. 17 Stephens.
The 20-year-old Stephens was well rested as she hadn’t played a match in three weeks after reaching the fourth round of Roland Garros, while Hampton had played 10 in the past two weeks at Birmingham and Eastbourne, including playing the Eastbourne final on Saturday. She wouldn’t offer any excuse for her loss, but her back was a bit sore and she appeared to be a bit slow.
Stephens was lightning fast, confident, and blitzed her with huge returns, big forehands and advantageous first serves.
"Sloane obviously is very gifted athletically," said Hampton. "She moves really well. She's very, very fast. She has got all the power in the world. It's about putting it together for her in her head. I think also that I was not returning very well. A lot of returns I just missed. But on the big points she made her first serves. She applied the pressure where I had to make the return and come up with something; I didn't. So all the credit to her."
Both Hampton and Stephens are coached by USTA Player Development, but Stephens spends more time at the USTA Training Center West in Carson, Calif., while Hampton puts in her hours at the USTA Player Development headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla. While America has a phalanx of very good young players, it’s those two who have stood out the most this year, with Stephens reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open with an upset of Serena Williams, and Hampton reaching the third round there and nearly upending eventual champion Victoria Azarenka. Both reached the fourth round of Roland Garros and Hampton made her grass court push last week. They are friendly, but are rivals too. The 23-year-old Hampton says that she measures herself against Stephens.
"Yeah, of course," Hampton said. "When you have people who are doing well around you, you're always measuring yourself up to them a little bit. She's top 20 in the world; second best American behind Serena."
Stephens, who hit a rough patch between the Australian and French Opens, is happy about her compatriot’s recent run of success. But she showed no mercy on court, winning five straight games to close out the match by pounding every short ball that she got in her wheelhouse.
"She's the third highest ranked American," Stephens said. "I told her after the match I was really excited for her. Obviously she's been playing really well. I'm happy for her. Everyone has their time and time to move up the rankings and push. I think she's playing really well. We all want to see each other to do well. She is one of my favorites. It's good."
Not every U.S. woman shined Monday as Vania King, Lauren Davis, Melanie Oudin, Varvara Lepchenko and CoCo Vandeweghe all suffered losses, but U.S. Fed Cupper Christina McHale won another battle between two Americans when she bested Alexa Glatch 6-4, 6-4. McHale, who recently turned 21 (she only allowed herself one sip of champagne to celebrate) seems to be in happy place as she’s healthy again and is currently traveling with her sister Lauren, a collegiate player who just graduated from the University of North Carolina.
Stephens is cheery again too. She loves playing big tournaments and competing on show courts. In her last three majors she has gone up against an A list of players including Maria Sharapova, Serena, Azarenka and Ana Ivanovic. Last year at Wimbledon, she fell to Germany’s Sabine Lisicki, who ended up upsetting Sharapova. The youngest player in the top 20, Stephens has reached at least the third round in her past five Grand Slams.
But don’t call her a tour veteran just yet.
"Even though I played a lot Slams, I feel like it's all new," she said. "Like I came and I didn't even know how to get to the locker room."
Stephens has a tough draw but she enjoys the challenge. She’ll play former top 10 player Andrea Petkovic in the second round and possible former US Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki in the third round. If she grabs those matches, the sky is the limit in the fourth round, because there are no seeds in the opposite quadrant with the losses of Lepchenko and Errani.
Stephens is more or less confident that in the next couple of years, some U.S. woman other than Serena will win a major. With the rate she’s improved, that player could be her.
"I think so," she said. "If I said yes everyone would be like, ‘Oh, she thinks they're great and whatever.’ If I say no, there's no confidence. So we'll see."
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