CINCINNATI, OH, USA - Resurgent American star Sloane Stephens showed impressive fitness both physically and mentally on Friday, capping off a long day with a second win of the day over Julia Goerges, 6-1, 7-6(3).
Earlier in the day, she survived a three-set encounter with Ekaterina Makarova, and now finds herself in her second straight Premier 5 semifinal at the Western & Southern Open.
Stephens spent nearly a year off the tour nursing a severe foot injury, returning to tennis at Wimbledon. In just the third event of her comeback, she stunned the likes of Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber to make the semifinals at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, repeating the feat against Kvitova this week in Cincinnati.
"I wasn't really expecting anything. Like, in D.C., it was, like, eventually I will beat someone and then two people in a row, so on and so forth," the American said. "I was kind of just going with it. Obviously, when you're playing good players, at this point in my comeback, there is no pressure on me. It's just, like, I'm going and having fun.
"I think most of it is I'm so excited to be on the court and be able to play again that I kind of have, like, a little extra umph, I guess."
With rain delaying her third round against Makarova, the young American recovered from a set down to outlast the in-form Russian and enjoyed a stellar start against Goerges, herself playing some of the best tennis of her career.
The often-ace leader struggled on serve in the opening set, hitting zero aces and five double faults as Stephens edged ahead. Goerges rebounded in the second to take a 4-1 lead, but Stephens rolled the score back level, ultimately solving the German in the tie-break after 86 minutes on court.
"This morning I woke up, and I was super tired. I normally have been sleeping in, so it was kind of tough to get up. I got here...and was totally ready to play," Stephens said. "[The match vs. Makarova] started off tough, but I was able to figure out a way somehow. After that match, then I came inside, took a shower, changed my clothes, had some more food. I took a nap, and then I woke up - it was 5:00, and I had to go and warm up.
"The day is just like a blur. I'm ready to get dinner and get in the bed, because I'm so tired. I'm going to sleep in tomorrow and come right back here to play not before 4:00."
Playing percentage tennis throughout, Stephens struck 10 winners to 12 unforced errors, and defended well off her second serve, dropping just five points in two sets.
Standing between her and a trip to her first final in 16 months will be No.2 seed Simona Halep, who remains in the running to take the No.1 ranking at the end of the week. Halep defeated the American in straight sets in the first round of the Citi Open earlier this summer.
"It will be another good match. I actually played well in D.C. the first set; the second set not so much," Stephens assessed. "I think it will be a good match. Obviously I'll have a lot more matches under my belt. Hopefully, I can turn it around and make the result a little different.