WASHINGTON, DC, USA - On a day where top seed Caroline Wozniacki withdrew with injury, a comeback from No.2 seed Sloane Stephens made sure the Citi Open wouldn't lose both of its top seeds.
The reigning US Open champion and French Open finalist came from a break down in the opening set to see off compatriot Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 7-5, 6-4.
The World No.3 trailed the wildcard 5-2 in the opener, and saved a total of four set points before going on a seven-game run to turn the first-round encounter around.
"I am excited to be back on the hard courts, which is my favorite surface. I am happy to be playing again obviously, and in the U.S., so I think that will be good. I am looking forward to it," Stephens said after the match.
Stephens broke Mattek-Sands as she served for the first set in the eighth game, but she was teseted the most in her ensuing service game.
The 25-year-old powered through a six-deuce game, where Mattek-Sands saved a game point for 5-5 before bringing up each of her chances to win the set, before ultimately drawing level.
The younger American's momentum continued through the end of the opener and into the second set, where she broke in the opening game and never looked back.
A year ago at the Citi Open, Stephens was in the midst of her early return from a nearly year-long foot injury, and lost in the first round to top seed Simona Halep.
"Obviously being ranked where I am now and where I was a year ago here is quite different, but I think that a lot has happened in the last year, and I have adjusted well," the World No.3 said.
"[Last year], I didn’t know if my foot would hold up. I didn’t know if I would ever be the same player, if I had the same results, if I would be average. There were a lot of unknowns, and I think that now I’m just focusing on playing my best and competing every time I get on the court, and enjoying myself.
"It’s just a little bit of a different outlook, but I’m the same person, same player; I just have a little bit of a different view on it."
Stephens sparkled off the ground over one hour and 53 minutes, as she hit 40 winners to just 20 unforced errors to outperform Mattek-Sands' even match of 28 winners and 28 unforced.
Stephens won her first career title at the Citi Open in 2015, and her next test on the road to a second title in the U.S. capital will be Germany's Andrea Petkovic.
"I won my first tournament here, so that will always be really cool for me," Stephens said. "Obviously, I have played here a lot of years in a row. This is probably like one of the longest tournaments I have ever played consistently. So, [I’m] just happy to play here.
"I love the courts here. It’s a great tournament. They treat me very well. It’s a good tournament to play every year."