Monday, January 20, 2020

Stephens loses in Australian Open, falls to 0-3 this year

Sloane Stephens, a 26-year-old Fresno, Calif., product, came within two points
of victory against Zhang Shuai. 2016 photo by Mal Taam
   Sloane Stephens' slump continued early today in the Australian Open.
   Seeded 24th, the Fresno, Calif., product fell to 0-3 this year with a 2-6, 7-5, 6-2 loss to Zhang Shuai of China in the first round in Melbourne. Stephens came within two points of victory while serving at 5-4 in the second set.
   "She's not in top physical condition to play her brand of tennis," Tennis Channel commentator Martina Navratilova said. "She has to decide if she wants to play."
   The match was a virtual replay of Zhang's 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2 win over Stephens in the opening round of the 2018 Australian Open. That extended Stephens' losing streak to eight after her 2017 U.S. Open title.
   At least Zhang, who will turn 31 on Tuesday, has a high ranking at No. 35. Stephens lost to No. 201 Arina Rodionova 6-2, 6-2 last week and No. 129 Liudmila Samsonova in three sets two weeks ago.
   Zhang, meanwhile, reached the singles and doubles finals in Hobart last week, losing to Elena Rybakina and with Peng Shuai to Nadiia Kichenok and Sania Mirza.
   Stephens, 26, suffered her second consecutive loss in the opening round of a Grand Slam tournament. She fell to Anna Kalinskaya, a qualifier ranked No. 127, 6-3, 6-4 in the U.S. Open last August.
   Stephens has not reached a quarterfinal in any tournament since losing at that stage in last year's French Open. Ranked as high as No. 3 in July 2018, she will drop three spots to No. 30.
   Stephens began playing tennis at 9 at the Sierra Sport and Racquet Club in Fresno. She moved to Boca Raton, Fla., two years later.
   Late tonight or early Tuesday, CiCi Bellis, a 20-year-old San Francisco native who grew up in nearby Atherton, is scheduled to play Tatjana Maria, a 32-year-old mother from Germany, in the first round of the Australian Open.
   It will be Bellis' first Grand Slam match in two years. She had four operations, three on her right wrist and one on her right elbow, during a 19-month layoff that ended last November.

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