Frustrated Stephens continues Asian slump

Published by Matt Trollope

Sloane Stephens led by a break in the second and third sets but fell to Anett Kontaveit in the opening round of the WTA Wuhan Open; Getty Images
Sloane Stephens, aiming to secure her place at the WTA Finals in Singapore, lost her first round match for the second straight week in the Asian swing.

For the second straight year, Sloane Stephens is slumping in the Asian swing.

The American, who lost in the first round of last week’s Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo to Donna Vekic, on Sunday fell in three sets to Anett Kontaveit in her first match in Wuhan.

Stephens, seeded ninth, is so far the highest seed to fall at the prestigious Chinese tournament.

And she was not happy about it.

In an unusual display of intense emotion, Stephens destroyed her racquet after losing the second set to Kontaveit and was docked a code violation for racquet abuse.

She continued to vent her anger when coach Kamau Murray visited her on court following that second set.

“If you’re serving up 4-3, 40-0, like come on, I’m losing too many of these games. Every tournament I play. Every match. I’m up and I’m like, what is going on?” she said to Murray, throwing in several expletives for good measure.

“I’m tight. I can’t hit my shots. Every time I put myself in this position, I get into a rally, rally, rally … I’m like, stuck.”

Her displeasure was understandable.

Stephens lead 6-4 4-2 and, on serve in the eighth game, had four game points for a 5-3 lead. She also led by a break in the final set before slumping to a 4-6 7-5 6-4 loss.

It is unclear which matches Stephens was referring to this season in which she has let slip significant leads. Perhaps the only notable example was the Roland Garros final, in which she lead Halep 6-3 2-0 before the Romanian recovered to win her first Grand Slam title.

But what is clear is that this marks the second year in a row Stephens has struggled in Asia following the US Open.

In 2017, after winning the title in Flushing Meadows, she was unable to win a set in four straight losses in Wuhan, Beijing and the round-robin stage of Zhuhai.

After reaching the quarterfinals in New York this year, it’s been a similar story so far – although she has been far more competitive on the scoreboard.

Driving Stephens at this stage of the season is a shot at her first ever appearance at the WTA Finals in Singapore.

Stephens revealed in the lead-up to the US Open that it was her goal to qualify for the elite eight-player event.

She currently sits in seventh position on the Race to Singapore leaderboard, less than 300 points ahead of No.8 Karolina Pliskova and ninth-placed Kiki Bertens, who won titles at the weekend in Tokyo and Seoul respectively.

Pliskova and Bertens arrive in Wuhan brimming with confidence and could easily close that gap on Stephens with a strong showing this week at a tournament with hundreds of ranking points on offer.

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