MELBOURNE, Australia - No.5 seed Sloane Stephens had to come back from a break down in both sets of her hard-fought Australian Open third round win over Petra Martic.
"It was a tough match, I thought [Martic] played some really good tennis," Stephens told the press, after her win. "I played well as well. It was just really good, competitive tennis, obviously that’s what you play for."
Former US Open champion Stephens needed two tiebreaks to get the job done, claiming the 7-6(6), 7-6(5) victory in exactly 120 minutes - one hour for each set.
"I felt really good in the second set, I wasn’t getting tired -- I was happy with that, because we had some really long rallies," Stephens continued. "Overall, it was just a really high-quality match, and it’s good to be on the good side of those matches."
And with today’s win, Stephens has now amassed more Australian Open wins than in her previous three visits combined, returning to the fourth round for the first time since 2014.
"I haven’t won a match here in three or four years, so this is good," said Stephens. "I had some tough matches in Brisbane and Sydney, so it’s just kind of working my way into it. But I feel good, and I’m happy to be back in the round of 16 here."
“Considering that I hadn’t won a match here in a long time, it’s great. I’m kind of conquering all the places where I’ve played terrible - Asia, here," Stephens had joked ahead of the match.
But it was a bit more complicated against the inspired Martic, who was through to this stage in Melbourne for the second time after wins over Heather Watson and Marketa Vondrousova.
Stephens had to come back from a break down in both sets, with Martic taking an early lead in the first to break at 1-0. She kept apace with her opponent, fighting off another break chance to hold for 3-4 and avoid going down 2-5. Stephens finally got the break back to level the score at 4-4, and they stayed on serve to force a tiebreaker.
Martic once again got ahead early with a minibreak to lead 2-0, but Stephens quickly erased the lead a few points later. The American finally pulled away at the end, winning the last three of four points to edge through with the set.
The second set started much like the first, with Martic breaking early and Stephens fighting her way back in it, recovering from the 2-3 deficit to break straight back. They traded breaks once again late in the set, this time with Martic going down 6-5 and standing two points away from defeat before bringing up the tiebreak. They were deadlocked in the decider as well, before Stephens finally broke through at 4-4 and reeled off the last three of four points to seal the match.
Stephens finished the match with positive numbers: her 34 winners were offset by just 19 unforced errors, and her strong serving saw her hit 3 aces and win 66% of points behind her first serve. By contrast, Martic’s 21 winners were outpaced by 24 unforced errors - many of which came during the nervy second set.
The American’s next opponent will be an in-form Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who unraveled Aliaksandra Sasnovich in straight sets, 6-0, 6-3, earlier in the day.