PARIS, France - No.10 seed Sloane Stephens survived a blitz of big hitting from Camila Giorgi to triumph in a brilliant 4-6, 6-1, 8-6 contest in the third round of Roland Garros.
"She plays kind of crazy, but in a good way," said Stephens afterwards. "She hits a lot of winners and plays very unpredictable, so it's hard to get a rhythm. I knew it was going to be a battle, and I just stuck in there and waited for my opportunities and took advantage of them when I could."
The result marks the American's fifth showing in the second week in Paris, and first since 2015. On each previous occasion, she has lost in the fourth round. It is also a measure of revenge for the rout Giorgi inflicted on her in Sydney in January, 6-3, 6-0, and levels their head-to-head at two wins apiece.
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In a match held over from Friday's play, both players came out firing in an absorbing, tightly contested first set that featured four knife-edge multi-deuce tussles. Despite a career high ranking of just No.30, the Italian has garnered a reputation as a giant-killer with eight Top 10 wins in the past six years - and she demonstrated why as she struck 18 winners past Stephens off both wings and from every corner of the court. Despite going down an early break, Giorgi reeled off five of the next six games by emphatically hitting through Stephens, taking the net at every opportunity to cut off the US Open champion's defence and winning seven out of nine points once there.
The 26-year-old was also sharp and accurate on the set's most crucial points, converting both of her break points with aplomb while redoubling her ferocious hitting to fend off seven of the eight she faced.
However, Giorgi's radar would go awry in a contrasting second set: suddenly, the patience with which she had waited for the right moment to pull the trigger dissipated as she racked up 14 unforced errors in a 28-minute stanza. Renowned for her risky approach to second serves, Giorgi's 74% first serve percentage had been key to protecting her delivery in the first game - but as it sunk to 54%, the World No.57 suffered from the stroke's flipside, committing three untimely double faults.
Stephens, meanwhile, continued to stick with the game plan: pushing Giorgi behind the baseline with deep groundstrokes, making the Italian hit extra shots where possible and keeping her honest with formidable down-the-line power from time to time.
Describing the evolution of her game since her comeback from foot surgery last year, Stephens acknowledged that "when I first came back I had some really great results just being consistent and wearing girls down - that worked for me". However, she has sought to improve in every facet of the sport. In general, she said, her biggest improvement has been to her movement - "I think that I have done really well to kind of pick up my feet a little bit" - but today, what the World No.10 was most proud of was her battling qualities deep into the third set. "I think I was most happy with just the way that I fought today," she said.
As the match headed into a decider, Giorgi fluctuated once more. A flurry of drive volley and forehand winners put her up 2-0 - but in the fourth game, a magnificent Stephens lob, one of several the Miami champion would conjure up today, seemed to jolt Giorgi into shedding more mistakes to concede the break.
Thereafter, a high-quality set went with serve until Giorgi struck in the ninth game, breaking serve with a breathtaking forehand return bullet that left even the speedy Stephens at a standstill. But the Sydney semifinalist was unable to capitalise, with an attempt to serve the match out gone in the blink of an eye and a cascade of unforced errors. Some inspired volleying garnered her another go - but once again, Giorgi's misfires prevented her from crossing the line.
It was to be her final chance. Stephens, withstanding the pressure from her opponent superbly, held firm to take a 7-6 lead, and for the third time in a row broke an errant Giorgi to seal victory in two hours and 26 minutes. In the next round, the 25-year-old will face Anett Kontaveit - with both players bidding for their maiden Roland Garros quarterfinal.