Two of America’s youngest singles Grand Slam champions met for the first time at the Rogers-presented National Bank Open on Monday, where 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, in a dramatic affair in Round 1.
From a 6-2, 5-1 score, Stephens needed six match points separated by 90 minutes and two rain delays to win 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 in just 3 hours.
Kenin and Stephens, a former WTA No. 4 and No. 3, arrived at very different locations in Toronto this week. Kenin, now ranked outside the top 400, entered the WTA 1000 event on an injury-ridden entry after returning to the Hologic WTA Tour in Washington, DC last week after a more than four-month hiatus with an ankle injury. Stephens, down 59th, has had a four-game losing streak dating back to their quarter-final loss to Coco Gauff at Roland Garros in June.
Uncomplicated until then was not: Stephens extended a 6-2, 5-1 lead against Kenin in less than an hour. Then things got complicated. Kenin saved two match points to hold serve in game seven and turned away two more before breaking all games for the first time from Stephens on her fourth chance in the next game. A hold to 30 followed, and Kenin hit a forehand return winner to break again at 5-5.
Overall, Kenin had five hits on her winning streak and she was two points away from a sixth – and therefore the second set. Despite Stephens holding serve from 0-30 to force a tie break, the younger of the two Americans would not be denied. She won four of the last five points of the tiebreak to go the distance.
The pair later navigated not one, but two rain delays in the final set. The first came after the first game where Stephens saved two break points to hold it and the second came with her 2-0 lead that served to give her a 3-0 lead.
Stephens once again extended a 5-2 lead but almost saw it slip away for the second time. She lost the next three games when Kenin saved a fifth match point en route to holding for 5-5 and stared at 15-30 on her serve at 5-5. From there, however, Stephens was finally done: she won seven of the last eight points.
An example of a stacked draw: Kenin and Stephens were two of seven Grand Slam champions in action on opening day of the WTA 1000 peloton. In the day session there were victories for Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, two-time Major winner Simona Halep and 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams.
Williams played her first hard court tournament in 18 months since the 2021 Australian Open, winning 6-4, 6-3 over lucky loser Nuria Parrizas Diaz of Spain.
Sakkari for Sloane next: It doesn’t get any easier for Stephens next. Maria Sakkari from Greece is expecting number 3. They too have never played.