CINCINNATI, OH, USA -- No.8 seed Sloane Stephens of the United States pulled off a comeback win in the second round of the Western & Southern Open on Wednesday night, recovering from a one-set deficit to outlast Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Putintseva came into the match having won the last three of her four meetings with Stephens, including a second-round victory at Sydney in January, but it was Stephens who claimed victory on this occasion after two hours and seven minutes of play. The American ended a three-match losing streak, dating back to the third round of Wimbledon, in the process.
"It's been pretty inconsistent for me on the hard courts," Stephens said in her post-match press conference. "I was just looking for a win and trying to fight through."
Stephens finished the match with 40 winners and 50 unforced errors, as she was the aggressor in the match against World No.42 Putintseva, who had nine winners and 18 unforced errors in total.
World No.10 Stephens ended up with one more service break in each of the final two sets to notch the win and enter the Cincinnati round of 16 in each of the last seven times she has contested the event (2012-2015, 2017-present).
Stephens, a Cincinnati semifinalist in 2017, will now take on wildcard Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia in the round of 16. Two-time Grand Slam champion Kuznetsova came back from two match points down to overcome Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine earlier on Wednesday, 4-6, 7-6(7), 6-2.
"[Kuznetsova has] always been a really tough opponent, obviously," said Stephens. "We have played some good matches in the past." Kuznetsova leads their head-to-head 3-1, with their last match coming at Wimbledon in 2016. Kuznetsova won that match 8-6 in the final set.
"Obviously I'm just trying to raise my level at the moment," Stephens continued. "Just going to go out there and do my best. And obviously it will be a high quality match, and that's what I need right now."
Stephens got off to a tough start, dropping serve in the first game of the match after a patch of unforced errors, and she double-faulted her next service game away, giving Putintseva a quick 3-0 lead.
The American got one break back, then staved off two break points and held for 3-2 with an ace, but Putintseva continued to maintain dominance in the opening frame. The Kazakh used penetrating depth of shot and her patented movement to garner triple break point at 4-2, at which point Stephens promptly double faulted once more to cede a 5-2 lead to Putintseva.
Putintseva busted open a rally on set point with an overhead to clinch the one-set lead. Putintseva had just three winners and three unforced errors in the set, while Stephens was undone by a whopping 22 unforced errors.
Stephens rebounded early in the second set, whipping winners down the sidelines when she could, en route to the first service break of the set for 3-1. However, that simply began a streak of four straight service breaks, as both players used crosscourt angles to close out games on their opponent’s serves.
Putintseva stopped the run of breaks with a love hold to reach 4-4, putting her two games away from victory. Stephens, though, peaked when she needed to, holding for 5-4, and then finding a crosscourt forehand winner in the next game to queue up her first set point. On that occasion, Putintseva shanked a forehand long, and the American had leveled the match at one set apiece.
A big Putintseva backhand return gave the Kazakh the initial break in the decider, but Stephens struck back immediately, breaking for 2-2 via a forehand crosscourt winner. At this stage, the rallies were protracted and plentiful but Stephens started to wrest control of the match from the Kazakh, and the American broke again to take a hefty 4-2 lead.
Putintseva was not done yet, earning a break point in the next game with a winning dropshot, then getting back on serve at 4-3 after a ninth double fault by Stephens. But Stephens claimed a break point of her own with a forehand crosscourt winner in the next game, and it was converted when Putintseva misfired on a dropshot, plopping it into the net.
Serving for the victory at 5-3, Stephens raced to triple match point, setting those chances up with a backhand crosscourt winner. One long miscue by Putintseva was all it took for Stephens to claim a long-awaited first win since Wimbledon.