LONDON – Sloane Stephens is hardly accustomed to leaving a Grand Slam tournament this quickly.
The 18th-seeded American’s run of reaching the second week at six consecutive majors – the longest active such streak among women – ended abruptly Monday at Wimbledon with a 6-2, 7-6 (6) first-round loss to 109th-ranked Maria Kirilenko of Russia.
“It feels like the end of the world now, but fortunately it’s not,” Stephens said, shaking her head. “So that’s a good thing. You’ve just got to go back and keep working.”
She saved five match points while serving and trailing 6-5 in the second set. But in the tiebreaker, a wide forehand from Stephens allowed Kirilenko to convert her sixth match point.
Coming into Monday, Stephens’ career record in Grand Slam matches was 31-12 (a .721 winning percentage), while she is only 55-54 (.505) in all other main-draw matches.
So it’s become something of a theme when it comes to the 21-year-old, who is based in Florida. Since a semifinal showing at the 2013 Australian Open, Stephens had made it to at least the fourth round at every major. Last year at Wimbledon, she got to the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Marion Bartoli.
When a reporter began a question about the end of her second-week Slam success, Stephens interjected: “The streak is broken. I’m so sorry to all of you who don’t have to write about me this week and next week. I’m so sorry.”
Said Kirilenko: “I didn’t really think about the results she had before.”
Kirilenko’s ranking is rather misleading. She has been ranked in the top 10, and played in the quarterfinals at the All England Club two years ago.
But she has been troubled by injuries that limited her to only five matches in 2014 ahead of Wimbledon, including to her left knee. A more recent left wrist problem resulted in the Russian hitting only slices on the backhand side until about a week ago.
“I haven’t played such a long match in a long time,” Kirilenko said about Monday’s victory. “I didn’t play for a long time, but the game is there. I didn’t lose my game. I just need some more matches and to go through difficult moments when you get tired. So today was a big plus for me.”
Kirilenko is engaged to three-time NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who has accompanied her in the past to Grand Slam tournaments. But he’s not around this time, instead spending time in Las Vegas this week ahead of Monday’s NHL awards show.
“He wanted to come, but then we found he doesn’t have a visa, and we didn’t have time to (get) a visa for him,” Kirilenko said. “I said, ‘Don’t worry, just enjoy your time there. I will be OK here by myself.’”
LONDON – As she left Court 2 at the All England Club after a victory, Venus Williams found her hitting partner and handed him her racket bag. Then, while holding a tiny red purse in her right hand, she reached out for a celebratory fist bump.
Hard to believe that Williams, a five-time champion at Wimbledon, had not won a singles match at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament since 2011.
The 30th-seeded American grabbed the final five games to power through the third set and beat 56th-ranked Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, on Monday.
“Of course, obviously, it feels good to win,” Williams said. “I mean, it feels good to play well against an opponent who is playing well and advance to the next round. That always helps.”
Now 34, and slowed by an energy-sapping autoimmune disease, Williams lost in the first or second round at eight of the past nine Grand Slam tournaments.
At Wimbledon, in particular, everything used to come so easily for her: She earned the singles trophy in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008.
“Everybody’s seen how she can play on grass,” said Williams’ hitting partner, David Witt. “Every time on the court, you’re not going to play your best, but the key is that she pulled through it today. Here at Wimbledon, just being here, I think she feels comfortable, and it’s her time to shine.”
After a fourth-round exit at Wimbledon in 2011, Williams lost her opening match – which happened to come on Court 2 – in 2012. She then missed the tournament for the first time as a professional in 2013, citing a back injury.
“For me, it was best not to come because I couldn’t really serve. You can’t really play tennis if you can’t really serve,” she said, thinking back to a year ago. “It was in my best interest not to come here. It was pretty clear that I needed to stay home.”