LONDON (AP) — Sloane Stephens’ Grand Slam career has fallen into an all-or-nothing pattern: She alternates runs to the final with first-round losses.
At Wimbledon on Monday, it was time for another early exit.
Stephens, No.5 Elina Svitolina and No. 6 Grigor Dimitrov were the top-15 seeds sent packing on the opening day. Roger Federer, wearing Uniqlo for the first time after his Nike contract ended, and Serena Williams, in her first grass-court match in two years, swept into the second round.
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Stephens was the U.S. Open champion last season and the French Open runner-up last month, but otherwise, she can’t seem to win a match at the majors.
The No. 4-seeded American bowed out at the All England Club in the first round for the second straight year, lasting a mere 71 minutes in the tournament before her 6-1, 6-3 loss to 55th-ranked Donna Vekic of Croatia was over.
“Not too much you can do,” said Stephens, her arms crossed and face a blank slate, revealing no emotion. “I’m not going to, like, go cry a bit, bang my racket.”
Might have made her forget how she played, though.
Vekic, who entered the day with a 0-5 record against opponents ranked in the top five, barely needed to produce much in the way of the spectacular. She generated only 12 winners among the 64 points she won.
The other 52 were split evenly between forced and unforced errors by Stephens, who is capable of playing much more cleanly and letting her superior defense hurt opponents. Instead, Stephens’ uneven strokes allowed Vekic to overcome nine double-faults.
“It was frustrating. Obviously I wasn’t making the shots I wanted to make. Wasn’t being as consistent as I wanted to. My feet were a little bit slow,” Stephens said. “Sometimes it happens. There’s nothing more, nothing less to it. I wish I would have made some more shots.”
In 2017, she arrived at Wimbledon to begin a comeback after sitting out for about 11 months because of an injured right foot that required surgery. Stephens quickly began playing the best tennis of her life, posting a 15-2 record to climb from 957th in the rankings and collect her first Grand Slam title in New York.
Right after that U.S. Open triumph, though, Stephens went through a rough patch, losing eight matches in a row, including a first-round loss at the Australian Open in January.
Her coach, Kamau Murray, spoke at Roland Garros last month about how Stephens was able to shrug off that troublesome time without letting it push her off course. He credited Stephens with knowing what matters and what doesn’t, and not allowing “the outside pressure to sort of … make her panic. That’s sort of the key to her success.”
Asked about her attitude in the face of days such as Monday, Stephens said she doesn’t dwell on the bad moments.
“We play a very long season. There’s no one that is going to win every single week. Even the No. 1 player in the world loses. It happens. Sometimes people do overreact, say, ‘I need a new coach, new physio,’ whatever it is,” she said. “I do believe that if you just work on yourself and focus on yourself, you’ll allow yourself to have success, no matter what else is going on around you.”
The eight-time champion Federer began his title defense in style, brushing aside Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 6-1, 6-3, 6-4 in 79 minutes on Centre Court.
Lajovic held serve in the opening game but that was as good as it got for the 58th-ranked Serb. Federer, 36, reeled off the next nine games to take charge and was in cruise control for the rest of the match.
Williams needed six match points to finish off a 7-5, 6-3 win over Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands.
Williams broke for a 5-3 lead in the second set and led 40-15 when serving for the match, but Rus saved the first two match points and then another three after reaching deuce. However, Rus finally sent a shot into the net to give Williams a winning return to the All England Club.
The seven-time champion missed last year’s tournament while pregnant and is playing this week for the first time since withdrawing during the French Open with a pectoral muscle injury.
Williams could have played Svitolina in the third round but now would not play a seed until at least the fourth round (No. 10 Madison Keys).
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