Sloane Stephens vs Kristie Ahn – An All-American Clash of Defensive Styles

Sloane Stephens in action at Wimbledon.
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The second day at Wimbledon saw a tight schedule following a rain-marred opening day. Amongst those set to be in action on day three are the Americans Sloane Stephens and Kristie Ahn, who are set to battle for a place in the third round.

Sloane Stephens and Kristie Ahn script upsets in the first round

Contrary to what most expected, the spirited Stephens found inspiration to surprise the two-time champion Petra Kvitova. She proved to be a formidable adversary for the Czech, playing attacking tennis early in the match and seemed to have all the answers to Kvitova’s trademark cross-court patterns. Recording a straight-sets win – much to the Czech’s dismay – the American shattered the two-time champion’s hopes of regaining her Wimbledon glory.

Ahn, meanwhile, entered the draw as a lucky loser and has struggled with form lately. That not withstanding, she rallied from a set down to breakdown the in-form Heather Watson’s game and seal an upset on a day that sprung numerous upsets in both the men’s and women’s draw. She will surely be hoping that her victory will herald a return to winning ways as she prepares to face her compatriot Sloane Stephens.

As she showed in her first-round upset of Watson, Ahn can prove to be a very strong opponent regardless of who she is playing. Her defensive game is her main strength and one cannot usually expect to wear her down chasing the ball. The American impressed at the 2019 US Open, claiming stunning upset wins over the likes of Jelena Ostapenko and Svetlana Kuznetsova as she reached the fourth round.

However, she had struggled to find big wins since as her form diminished and she has been playing lackluster tennis since then. But she appears to be comfortable on the grass. She first played on grass fairly late in her career, but she has enjoyed success on the surface since. In fact, she was so impressive on her grass-court debut during the 2017 season that she surprised herself, scoring some statement wins, particularly at the WTA Nottingham Open where she reached the quarterfinals as a qualifier.

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The low-bouncing grass appears to suit her natural game better than other surfaces. Stephens’ steadfast playing style is not very different from Ahn’s. Both are predominantly defensive in their play. Stephens loves to play from the baseline and, despite her often defensive mindset, she is capable of dictating rallies and forcing the opponents to make an error.

Ahn will probably try to target her compatriot’s vulnerable first serve and backhand to keep her momentum going. But for a player who has an unusually long forehand swing, Stephens has a reasonably strong forehand, with the 2017 US Open champion able to use that shot offensively and defensively to good effect.

Ahn, on the other hand, has a vulnerable serve, with a typically average first-serve percentage and an attackable second delivery. However, she is very good with the drop shot off the backhand. Given that Stephens prefers to dictate rallies from behind the baseline, it will probably be a wise strategy for Ahn to draw her opponent to the net as often as she can.

Stephens starts as the favourite both due to her all-round abilities and her higher WTA ranking, which she has earned with relatively consistent performances whereas the 117th ranked Ahn has had a horrendous year, not qualifying in Melbourne or Paris. Ahn will know that this is her chance to build upon her impressive first-round performance and that she cannot afford to be complacent with this a valuable chance to earn ranking points and avoid the prospect of falling further down the rankings.

With this section of the draw loaded with talent – either Ludmilla Samsonova or Jessica Pegula will be in the path of the winner in the next round – the former-US Open champion may be looking to this match as a chance to continue sharpening her game and prepare herself for tougher tests. But regardless of the result, an engrossing match looks to be on offer when Stephens and Ahn meet.

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