MELBOURNE, Australia - No.5 seed Sloane Stephens won her first Australian Open main draw match since 2014 on Monday, knocking out countrywoman Taylor Townsend, 6-4, 6-2 to reach the second round on Margaret Court Arena.
Stephens, who reached the semifinals in Melbourne back in 2013 and the fourth round the year after, struggled in ensuing years but erased those demons in solid style against Townsend, securing victory after 67 minutes on court.
"I thought I played well, solid. It's not ever easy playing someone from your own country, so I was happy to be through," the former US Open champion said after the match.
"She mixes it up a lot. She can do a lot of different things most girls don't do. It's kind of like playing against a boy, I guess, that they serve and volley and do weird stuff and you're like, 'What's happening?'
"I think that's what makes her so dangerous is she does a lot of different things so well. I knew from the first point I was going to have to expect a lot of different things. I thought I handled it well, so that was good."
The American ended 2018 with an impressive run to the finals of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, but endured a slow start against Townsend, a former junior Australian Open champion who broke first in the opening set.
Stephens quickly reversed the deficit and dropped just two more games to win the opening set. The second set went largly in kind as she raced out to a 5-1 lead, holding four match points on Townsend's serve.
Showing some of the all-court play she displayed as a junior, Townsend saved all four and forced the 2018 French Open finalist to serve for the match, which she ultimately accomplished in the next game.
In all, the former US Open champion struck a solid 24 winners to just 16 unforced errors and broke serve five times; Townsend, by contrast, hit 15 winners to 23 unforced errors, breaking serve just twice total.
Standing between Stephens and a spot in the third round is her former junior doubles partner, Timea Babos of Hungary, who edged Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in two tiebreaks, 7-6(5), 7-6(3).
The American and the Hungarian won the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open girls' doubles titles together in 2010.
"We used to play a lot, we won three doubles slams together. That's good," the American said.
"I think it will be another good match. Obviously, the second round of a Grand Slam, is a tough match again. I'm just going to go out and compete and have a good game plan and try to execute the best I can."