NEW YORK, NY, USA -- Defending champion Sloane Stephens of the United States opened her campaign for a second consecutive US Open title strongly on Monday with a 6-1, 7-5 victory over World No.80 Evgeniya Rodina of Russia.
"I'm really happy," said Stephens, during her post-match press conference. "It's not downhill from here. But it's good to get through that first day. First round of a Grand Slam is super tough, especially as defending champion."
No.3 seed Stephens, who is aiming to be the 23rd woman in US Open history to reclaim her title from the previous year, picked up her second win in two meetings with Rodina (their first meeting was in 2011) after 76 minutes of play.
"I was a little bit nervous," Stephens continued. "I think obviously it's never easy as an American playing in the US Open. I think I've felt worse nerves in that, playing here before in previous years. I thought that was okay that I was a little nervous today."
Stephens hit 24 winners while her opponent Rodina, one of the growing number of mothers contesting matches on the WTA, had 11 winners during the tilt. Stephens also won an excellent 75 percent of points on her second serve throughout the encounter.
In the second round, Stephens will face qualifier Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, who moved past fellow qualifier Kathinka von Deichmann, the first-ever player from Liechtenstein to contest a Grand Slam main draw. Von Deichmann had to retire in the third set of her match against Kalinina.
Stephens was immediately tested by Rodina in the opening game, as the Russian cracked a backhand return winner at 0-30 to give herself triple break point. Stephens maneuvered back to deuce, but Rodina slammed another backhand return winner for a fourth break point. But the Russian fired three straight errors from that point to allow Stephens to hold for 1-0.
Buoyed by the opening-game comeback, Stephens flourished from there. After Rodina held for 1-1, Stephens went on a streak, cruising through the remainder of the opening frame. The American used crosscourt groundstrokes to claim the first break of the match and lead 3-1, and dominated with her forehand two games later to pick up an insurance break lead of 5-1.
Stephens slammed a volley for a winner to reel off a fifth straight game and close out the opening set 6-1. The defending champion won 70 percent of points on her second serve in the set, while Rodina was 0-for-4 in that metric.
The second set started with Stephens breaking Rodina in the opening game, as the American cracked open a long rally with a forehand winner on her third break point. But as the set wore on, it became far more competitive, as Rodina began to hit through the court with more ferocity.
The Russian finally found an opening on the Stephens serve at 4-3, using her improving forehand to force a netted forehand from the third seed to reach break point. Another stunning forehand, this one a clean winner, gave Rodina her first break of the match to level the set at 4-4.
But after surviving a close game on her serve to hold for 5-5, Stephens ended up lifting her play when she needed it most, breaking the Russian at love with stirring crosscourt and passing shots to clinch the 6-5 lead. In the next game, Stephens set up her first match point with a forehand winner down the line, which she converted following a netted backhand by Rodina.
"I've been playing well," Stephens concluded. "I'm happy the way my game is now."