The two youngest remaining women met in the fourth round of Australian Open 2013 on Monday, squaring off in a match that had all the twists and turns of a teenage drama.
While it probably didn’t all go to the intended script for 19-year-old Sloane Stephens, it definitely finished on the right note, as she overcame young Serb Bojana Jovanovski 6-1 3-6 7-5 to progress to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Bubbly and effervescent off the court, the young American gives the impression of being just like any other teenager. She is on the record as saying she enjoys shopping and has also admitted she is not averse to playing the occasional practical joke on her friends.
But put a racquet in her hand and she exhibits tennis maturity beyond her years. On Monday, she wrote another intriguing chapter in her burgeoning tennis education.
After flying through the first set, Stephens was forced to battle against a free-swinging Jovanovski, who began to find the range on her groundstrokes as the match progressed.
“She started playing really great tennis, and obviously you guys (the Hisense Arena crowd) needed to see a show, and I hope that I gave that to you,” Stephens said after the match.
“She just brought it full bore in the second and third set ... mentally it was pretty tough. I was going cross court on all of my shots and she was going down the line with every shot and hitting it with everything that she had, like every muscle in her body.
“I couldn’t find a rhythm but sometimes you just have to stick it out.”
It couldn’t have been a worse start for the draw’s only remaining Serbian woman. The 21-year-old Jovanovski pushed the ball long and wide in the opening game before double faulting to hand the break on a platter to Stephens.
Blasting winners from the forehand side – she hit three in her opening service game alone – Stephens then consolidated for a 2-0 lead. She showed off the variety in her game by pulling off an impossible-to-retrieve drop shot from beyond the baseline.
With Jovanovski, ranked 56 in the world, crippled by an 18 unforced error count, Stephens cruised through the set to take it 6-1 in just 25 minutes.
After spluttering her way through the first set and a half, Jovanovski suddenly clicked towards the end of the second, finding the depth and range on her forehand to claim it 6-3.
Heading into the decider, only a brave individual would have been game to pick the result. The tennis lifted as both worked the other around the court.
Trailing 2-0, Stephens looked to be feeling the pinch physically, but she dug deep, smashing a backhand down the line for the break back. She then reeled off eight consecutive points on her way to 3-all. With the contest deadlocked at five games apiece, Stephens seized the moment, breaking to love with a forehand winner.
Holding her nerve, she then served out the match to secure a meeting against countrywoman Serena Williams or 14th seed Maria Kirilenko in the quarterfinals.
“I’ll just treat it as another match, you just go out and do your best," Stephens said.
"Regardless of who I play, it’s still a tennis match and you have to go out and play your game no matter what.”