PARIS (Reuters) - Sloane Stephens declared she does not look “very presentable” when she is out and about exploring Paris but there was nothing shabby about her determination on Saturday as she clung on for dear life to reach the fourth round of the French Open.
Playing at Roland Garros for the first time since being crowned U.S. Open champion last September, Stephens’ chances of reaching the last 16 here for a fifth time looked in jeopardy for much of the third set until she finally overcame Italian Camila Giorgi with a 4-6 6-1 8-6 victory.
The American 10th seed had dropped just six games in her previous two matches and stepped onto a sunbathed Court 18 holding a perfect record against Italian opponents at majors.
But such statistics mattered little to Giorgi and she left Stephens yelling “What the hell’s going on?” after breaking the American to go 6-5 up in the final set.
Giorgi came into the contest knowing she had the game to trouble the American, having won their last two encounters in straight sets, and it was no different on Saturday as she served for the match at 5-4 and again at 6-5.
But Stephens held her nerve to break back on both occasions and was mightily relieved when she saw Giorgi’s backhand zip beyond the baseline on her first match point.
“Going out there I knew it was going to be a battle. She plays kind of crazy but in a good way. I just stuck in there and waited for my opportunities and took advantage of them when I could,” said Stephens.
“I just tried to stay tough. I fought really well.”
Giorgi left Stephens gasping time and again as she sent 44 winners flying past the American, who was also broken five times.
But so powerful was the 57th ranked Italian’s brutal groundstrokes that she often sprayed them long and wide and a tally of 53 unforced errors paved the way for her downfall.
Stephens will hope her body does not suffer too much fatigue from the two hours and 26 minutes tussle as she will be back on court on Sunday for a showdown with Petra Kvitova’s conqueror, Estonian 25th seed Anett Kontaveit.
The win also allowed Stephens to extend her stay in Paris. Now that she is a bona fide member of the Grand Slam winners’ club, does she get mobbed in the streets?
“Not so much. I normally look like — I wouldn’t say a homeless person, but I look like not very presentable. I’m not really recognisable because I always have a hat on and I look kind of crazy. No one approaches me.”
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ken Ferris