It was definitely a difficult situation for the No.3-seeded Sharapova - it was her first match since falling in the second round of Wimbledon seven weeks ago, she had sat out the last few tournaments with a hip injury, and the No.17-ranked Stephens was just one spot out of the seedings for this week.
But that World No.17 definitely stepped up - from 62 20 down she tightened the screws and cut down on her unforced errors in a big way, as Sharapova's began piling up. And by the end of the match it was just too scratchy from Sharapova - she had a -46 differential (16 winners to 62 unforced errors), and Stephens was a less scratchy -31 (20 winners to 51 unforced errors). Stephens won, 26 76(5) 63.
"It definitely started out a little rough for me, but I'm glad I was able to turn it around and start playing some good tennis in the second and third sets," Stephens said after the match. "At the start of the second set I was just going to start going for my shots a little more and hoped they would just go in. I'm glad I started hitting and finding a rhythm. That kind of helped me out for the rest of the match."
The ending wasn't so smooth though - Stephens double faulted on her first two match points, smiling to her box after the second. Sharapova committed her 62nd miscue of the match on match point No.3.
"I rarely double fault, so for me to double fault twice on both match points was a little flustering, but I was glad to get through it," Stephens said of the ending. "I was like, 'I never double fault. I can't believe I just double faulted.' But then I was like, 'Okay, it's fine. Don't worry. It happens to everyone.'"
"Obviously when you're playing someone who's No.3 in the world, you know they're No.3 for a reason and they're going to be tough," she said. "You've got to go out and play your hardest. But when you think about it, you're like, 'Okay, I'm playing Sharapova.' Like, you've got to get your mind right."
Sharapova was asked to assess her performance afterwards in her post-match press conference.
"Well, I thought I started the match off pretty well, but when you put yourself in a really good position you can't let it go - that's what I did tonight," Sharapova said. "I didn't continue what I was doing well for the first set and a half, and that hurt me. I stopped being patient. I started making a lot more errors, especially off the first ball. Just errors I shouldn't make. Obviously I haven't played in a long time, but I've got to be ready from the first match. So it's disappointing, but that's how it goes in this game."
And Stephens' performance? "Sloane is a great retriever," she said. "She makes you hit a lot of balls and sometimes you think it's a great shot but it keeps coming back. You just have to make her - any opponent - hit a few extra times. That's not something I did at the end of the second and the third."