Sloane Stephens remains proud of her efforts this fortnight but rues her missed opportunities as she saw her US Open title defence come to an end at the hands of Anastasija Sevastova in the quarter-finals on Tuesday.
Playing at noon in scorching weather in Queens, New York, the American lost 6-2, 6-3 to Sevastova, who was appearing in the quarter-finals here for a third consecutive year.
Sevastova made history as the first Latvian woman to make the US Open last-four and next faces Serena Williams or Karolina Pliskova, who play their quarter-final on Tuesday night.
The third-seeded Stephens was unable to convert any of the seven break points she created in the opening set and was broken twice to give her 19th-seeded Latvian opponent a one-set lead.
The conditions were brutal and the tournament announced that junior play was suspended because of the heat and wouldn’t resume until the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature reading went below 32.2 degrees Celsius. Senior play somehow continued.
The defending champion was broken at the start of the second set and despite breaking back, she found herself down 1-4.
The American still tried to claw her way back, and saved break point while trying to level the set for 4-all, but Sevastova set down a clutch drop shot winner to break again and open up a 5-3 advantage.
Stephens saved two match points in the next game but Sevastova sealed the win on her third opportunity as a Stephens backhand landed in the net.
The world No. 3, who has been suffering from a sinus infection for the past week, refused to cite illness as an excuse and chalks up the loss to just it being a bad day at the office.
“When you don’t play big points well, the match can get away from you. I think that’s what happened today. I didn’t convert. I didn’t play the big points well, and you don’t win matches when you don’t take your opportunities,” said the 25-year-old Stephens.
“I think today I just really couldn’t get anything to connect.
“Mentally, physically, I just wasn’t connecting. It just was a really tough day. The heat doesn’t make it any more fun.
“Nothing was wrong with me before the match. I was excited to play, happy to get out there and compete. Today was a bad day. I wish I could have played better. The better player won.”
The Extreme Heat Policy was in effect on Tuesday which means the women get a 10-minute break after the second set if the match goes to a third. Men get the break after the third set.
Roger Federer said the stifling humid conditions on Monday night during his four-set defeat to John Millman meant that he “couldn’t get air. There was no circulation at all”.
Asked to elaborate on how tough the conditions were, Stephens said: “It was just really hot. You can’t control the weather, can’t control what the tournament is going to do. You just have to go with it.
“Unfortunate that I played first match at 12:00 and it was so extremely hot, but it was hot for both of us. She handled it better. Yeah, sometimes it happens like that.”
Despite her defeat, Stephens is pleased with how she handled the occasion of being the reigning champion in New York and with no points to defend for the rest of the year (she went on an eight-match losing streak after winning the 2017 US Open), she is looking forward to potentially moving up in the rankings and securing a spot in the WTA Finals in Singapore.
“The fact that I made it to the quarter-finals and played some really good matches and I just competed as hard as I could, I mean, a lot to be proud of,” said Stephens.
She added: “I hope that I can go to Asia and win some more matches and hopefully make the year end and hopefully keep going as far as I can.”
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