NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sloane Stephens took down 16th-seeded Latvian Anastasija Sevastova with a gritty 6-3 3-6 7-6(4) win on Tuesday to lead what could be an American parade into the U.S. Open semi-finals.
For the first time in 15 years four American women reached the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows with the 83rd-ranked Stephens hoping to be joined in the last four by Venus Williams, CoCo Vandeweghe and Madison Keys.
With her win over 16th seed Sevastova, Stephens becomes the first American woman apart from Venus or Serena Williams to make the U.S. Open last four since 2004.
“Man, I am hoping we can make it four, how awesome would that be,” said Stephens. “This is pretty amazing. I hope there are four Americans in the semi-finals.”
Ranked outside the top 950 just six weeks ago, Stephens was the most likely of the U.S. contenders to see her run end in the quarter-finals but the 24-year-old would not be denied.
Down 3-1 and a double break point in the third set, she dug deep and rode the support of a raucous Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd to get back on level terms and force a tiebreak,
She clinched victory on her first match point with a thundering a forehand winner down the line.
“I just told myself to keep fighting,” said Stephens. “I just knew that if I just stuck with it and continued to play my game I was going to have an opportunity.”
Sidelined for almost a year after foot surgery last summer, Stephens has been on a sizzling run since her return, playing four events and reaching the semis in Toronto and Cincinnati.
”A month ago before I started winning matches I was really worried,“ she said. ”There were just so many things I was worried about but once I just realised I have it good, I play tennis and have fun every day it just relieved a lot of stress.
“I was finally able to play my game, play loose and ‘BAM’ here we are.”
Making her first appearance on Arthur Ashe, Stephens got the match off to a jittery start when she was broken by the crafty Sevastova.
But the American quickly settled her nerves, breaking right back and then taking Sevastova’s serve again at 3-1 as her opponent suddenly began to show signs of distress.
With Stephens ahead 5-2, the Latvian called for the trainer at the changeover and was soon stretched out on the court while she had her right thigh worked on.
Sevastova, who came back from a set down to beat Russia’s five-time grand slam champion and crowd favourite Maria Sharapova in the fourth round, rallied again and secured the only break of the second set at 3-1 on her way to levelling the contest and setting the stage for a dramatic finish.
“When I started my comeback at Wimbledon I could have never dreamed of something like this, these results and making the semi-finals in my home slam, my favourite tournament,” said Stephens. “It is indescribable.”
Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris