PARIS, France – 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens survived a lapse in the second set before defeating Misaki Doi, 6-3, 7-6(4) to move through to the second round of the 2019 competition.
"When you're playing an opponent, at any point they can start playing better, change what they are doing," Stephens said to the media in her post-match press conference. "I think [Doi] changed it up a little bit and she raised her level. I just had to match her there at the end, and I think I did that pretty well. Just keep executing and stay the course."
The No.7 seed’s progress was solid but unspectacular; there are areas of her game, such as her first-serve percentage, that she will aim to improve as she threatened to blow a second-set lead against an opponent more than 100 spots below her on the WTA Ranking.
Stephens has endured a relatively disappointing season to date, with six of her eight losses coming against players outside of the Top 40, but she has looked more at home on clay, notably reaching the semifinals in Madrid, and was simply too solid for the Japanese.
"It's the first round, and everyone can be nervous, anyone can win, an underdog can beat the No. 1 seed," Stephens stated. "That's how it is. So I think, yeah, it's a little nerve-wracking, but I think most of the time, at least for me, once I get through it, I don't feel those butterflies anymore. I'm okay. Like, we got started. Good to go. Let's get it going."
Neither player held serve comfortably for the duration of the first set, but Stephens had the extra gear when required, not facing a single break point and pouncing on her first chance of the match midway through its duration.
Doi, who had won only one of her previous six visits to the Roland Garros main draw, was forced into taking chances that she was not comfortable with, and as such racked up an unforced error count of 11 in the opening set compared to nine from her opponent. The difference in winners between the WTA World No.7 and her opponent was even starker: Stephens hit 11 and was on the wrong end of just four.
The second set followed a similar pattern, though both players were more assured on serve until Stephens made what looked likely to be the decisive break to move 4-2 up.
Doi had won just four points from the American’s first three service games of the second set, yet from nowhere manufactured her first break point of the match as Stephens fired a forehand long. It was the invitation the underdog, who was not making the volume of mistakes she had in the opener, needed to get back in the match.
Having looked down and out, she strung together three straight games as the seed misfired and moved to within a service game of the set. But as quickly as ending her 0-14 streak against Top 10 players seemed a possibility again, Stephens slammed the door, hitting with more purpose to earn the break back.
The storm apparently weathered, Stephens was forced to work hard to hold serve and was forced into a tiebreak as the WTA World No.110 held firm.
In the decisive game, however, the greater quality of America proved telling as she ran out a comfortable winner, despite missing two match points.
Stephens has now won 10 of 12 tiebreaks this season. When asked for the reason for her recent success in breakers, the American responded, "I honestly have no idea. Yeah, I don't know. Not a clue. It just starts going well, and that's it."
Sara Sorribes Tormo looms for Stephens in the second round, the Spaniard having defeated Alison Van Uytvanck 6-1, 5-7, 6-2.