May 27, 2018 / 4:54 PM / in a year

Stephens off to a flyer after 'heart and body' connect

PARIS (Reuters) - Sloane Stephens showed on Sunday how phenomenal her game can be when her “heart and body” are “connected”, as unlucky Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus discovered in the first round of the French Open.

May 27, 2018, Paris, France; Sloane Stephens (USA) in action during her match against Arantxa Rus (NED) on day one of the 2018 French Open at Stade Roland Garros. Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

The American, who embarked on a forgettable eight-match losing streak immediately after her U.S. Open triumph last September, was at her destructive best as she walloped Rus 6-2 6-0 to chalk up her first win at a major since joining the grand slam winners’ club herself.

With the benefit of hindsight, Stephens now believes she should have known better than to put her body through that five-month losing run, which included a first-round exit at the Australian Open in January.

“I tried to do way more than I should have after the U.S.

Open and I should have just shut it down,” 10th seed Stephens, who missed the claycourt major last year while recovering from a foot injury, told reporters.

“My heart was there but my body wasn’t. So when the two things aren’t connected, it’s never a good thing.”

However, when the two things are connected, it is not a good thing for her opponents.

On Sunday, Rus managed to produce only two winners during the contest as Stephens ran her ragged from the baseline with a non-stop flow of groundstrokes that flew off the sunbaked clay.

Despite Stephens’s status as the reigning Flushing Meadows champion, French Open organisers did not rate her a big enough draw to merit a place on one of the three main showcourts.

Rather than getting worked up about being asked to play on the more intimate Court 18, Stephens was delighted that fans had packed into the new, 2,200-capacity arena to watch her in action.

“Not playing here last year, I missed it. So any court you put me on is okay as long as I get one,” Stephens, who broke into the world’s top 10 for the first time following her triumph at the Miami Open in March, said diplomatically.

“It was actually really nice. There was a full crowd. So you can’t really complain too much about that.”

What she will be concerned about, though, is doing well in Paris after failing to progress beyond the fourth round in six previous visits.

But on Sunday if Rus harboured any hopes of pulling off another upset, especially since Stephens had failed to navigate past the third round in any of her three build-up tournaments, those hopes were dashed in 49 brutal minutes.

The result secured Stephens a second-round match with either Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova or Magdalena Frech from Poland.

Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Christian Radnedge and Clare Fallon

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