Daniel Island, S.C., April 10, 2016 — Sloane Stephens has never lost a final. And in her first test at Volvo Car Open she didn’t disappoint, defeating Elena Vesnina, 7-6(4) 6-2. It was the American’s first title on clay, her third of the year, and her fourth overall.
“I’m happy to be winning tournaments,” she said. “I was thinking every point … compete. Playing a player like her, she’s going to play every point. I made sure I got every ball back and made her play.”
Sloane, who will rise to No. 22 in the WTA rankings tomorrow, is the first American to win Charleston since Serena Williams in 2013.
In addition to $128,100 and 470 ranking points, Stephens won a Volvo S60. She was definitely not expecting that!
“That was crazy,” she said, her eyes wide and smile as broad as can be. It was the same car — Volvo S60 — that she’d driven in a promotional video taped for the tournament. “I told my coach, yeah, I drove this Volvo. It’s like fast and it does all this stuff and blah, blah, blah. And he was like … oh, okay. Then the other day we were eating across the street. I was like, oh, my God. There’s the car i drove and he’s like oh that’s nice. But now it’s mine.”
The victory wasn’t a Sunday afternoon walk in the park for Sloane. The wind was at a minimum, but temperatures were brisk. Bundled up fans hugging huge bags of kettle corn cheered on Stephens to a 5-3 lead in the first set just to watch the lead slip away. She lost two consecutive games and saved one set point, which sent them to a tiebreak.
“I was playing really passive,” Stephens said. “I had a bit of a T. Rex syndrome; I needed to just hit through the ball. At 3-all I hit a pretty solid return and played a good point. Once I started thinking, okay, hit it, be aggressive, it all came out better.”
Vesnina said yesterday she should stay away from Sloane’s forehand, as one of the best on tour. But it was her backhand that did the damage today. She smacked a deep one to close the tiebreak.
“A lot of girls have tried to just go direct to my backhand,” she began. “But, I’ve gotten really solid off both sides. That was kind of something that I needed to work on. I needed to be able to get every ball back on both sides. Now, it’s not really a weakness.”
Stephens carried the momentum into the second set, as Vesnina started to appear tired. She shook out her right arm. Twisted her hips, as if the wear and tear of eight match wins was taking its toll. As a qualifier she had to play two rounds more than Stephens, who also got a first-round bye because she was seeded No. 7.
“It was pure joy to play on the center court today,” Vesnina said. “We showed some high level tennis. I know I had chances. I had a set point in the first set. But Sloane was playing really solid. She was a little bit better, one step faster, one step better. She moved really well. At one point I was just thinking, she’s everywhere. And my body was a bit stiff from all these matches, even having massage. Our physio did a really good job here.”
This was Vesnina’s second final at Volvo Car Open. She lost to Caroline Wozniacki in 2011.
Stephens’ year could be aptly characterized as ‘all or nothing.’ As of today, she’s won three finals in three tries and recorded three opening round loses, including her first match at the Australian Open.
“I was talking to my friend last week. She didn’t know if she could come,” Sloane said. “And, I was like, well, I’ve never won a match there, so the earlier in the week you come, the better because I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Stephens said she arrived on Daniel Island with a lot of anxiety because her record was so poor. “I’ve never done well, here.” But she changed her ‘mindset.’ “I mean I just wanted to go out there and have fun; I had nothing to lose. My life is great. It’s tennis. I should just do that every week.”
Stephens cut her press conference just a bit short because she had to hustle off to the airport and catch a flight home to Los Angeles. She couldn’t wait to get home and, “sleep in my own bed.”
Charleston Doubles Winners
Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia (No. 3), both of France, won the Women’s Doubles Crown here today. They defeated the top-seeded team of American Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova 6-2 7-5.
“We are going straight to Fed Cup,” Mladenovic said, when asked how they’d celebrate. “We’re going to the Charleston airport, to Atlanta, then Paris, and then a train to Trelaze. Our team will be waiting for us.”
This was the pair’s first doubles title in Charleston. Mladenovic won here in 2013 alongside Lucie Safarova.