WTA Indian Wells: Sloane Stephens eases past erratic Victoria Azarenka, triumphs in straight sets

Sloane Stephens put in a decent display to defeat former champion Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 7-5 in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open as the American took this win surprisingly in one-sided fashion.

WTA Indian Wells: Sloane Stephens eases past erratic Victoria Azarenka, triumphs in straight sets
Sloane Stephens will now look to continue her fine run of form, especially after earning her first win over two-time Major champion Azarenka | Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America
Sloane Stephens
2 0
Victoria Azarenka

US Open champion and world number 13 Sloane Stephens finally earned her maiden victory over former world number one and two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka in their blockbuster second-round meeting at the BNP Paribas Open, snapping a three-match losing streak against the Belarusian, where all of their past meetings all came at the Australian Open.

Stephens recovered from an early deficit and claimed seven straight games which left Azarenka stunned as the 2016 champion, who was returning from a custody battle for her newborn, was misfiring and won just 11 points throughout the first set. Despite a tougher fight from the Belarusian in the second set, Stephens showed nerves of steel and ultimately earned the straight-sets victory after just an hour and 15-minutes of play.

Sloane Stephens celebrates grabbing the confidence-boosting victory | Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America
Sloane Stephens celebrates grabbing the confidence-boosting victory | Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America

This match was scheduled to have taken place a day earlier, but rain washed out the night and therefore it was postponed a day later. Stephens, who seems to be regaining her confidence, looks in great form and will now face talented youngster Daria Kasatkina in the third round.

Stephens strolls to take the first set

It was a match full of momentum swings — even the smallest of all could make a difference. Stephens was firing in the opening points, looking in great form as she led 30-0 in the first game before Azarenka found her groove immediately, blasting two return winners and a smash to claim the break, rattling four consecutive points.

Victoria Azarenka endured through a horrendous first set which saw her just win four service points despite having a bright start | Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America
Victoria Azarenka endured through a horrendous first set which saw her just win four service points despite having a bright start | Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America

However, it was the only thing Azarenka could celebrate about throughout the first set. Her serves were not working well and she totally lost the plot, failing to find her range as consecutive errors saw her getting broken straight back to love. Rising in confidence, Stephens was rolling through the points and claimed 16 of the last 18 points to open up a commanding 4-1 lead.

The Belarusian finally earned game points on her serve but failed to convert as Stephens was rock solid at the baseline, often dragging the former world number one from side to side and outlasting her in rallies. Grabbing the golden opportunity to serve out the first set, the American dutifully completed her job as she sealed the flawless first set 6-1 after just a mere 25 minutes of play, rattling off six consecutive games.

Sloane Stephens' baseline game was at its best today, although her opponent helped by providing many unforced errors | Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America
Sloane Stephens' baseline game was at its best today, although her opponent helped by providing many unforced errors | Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America

Azarenka puts up a tough fight but ultimately falls in straight sets

Azarenka’s struggles on her serves continued to bother her — after a horrific first set which saw her win just four service points. Unforced errors were overwhelming the two-time Grand Slam champion and she was once again broken in the opening game of the second set. However, this time Stephens was unable to consolidate her advantage as Azarenka finally started to find her footing, with her backhand fortress slowly finding its way back.

Four consecutive breaks started the second set and it was surprisingly Azarenka who had the first service hold, her first of the match, and she was slowly returning into her vintage form which saw her lift the title on her last appearance in Indian Wells back in 2016. Determined to exact three consecutive defeats at the Australian Open to the same player, Stephens handled the pressure well and played catch-up.

Sloane Stephens was in control for the majority of the match, although she faced some troubles in the second set | Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America
Sloane Stephens was in control for the majority of the match, although she faced some troubles in the second set | Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America

However, nerves ultimately caught up when Stephens was serving to stay in the set at 4-5 down. She found herself in a dangerous position, trailing 0-30 while Azarenka has all the momentum running in her. Unexpectedly, four consecutive errors from Azarenka saw her throw away her chances, allowing Stephens to grab the confidence-boosting hold.

The array of errors continued to come from the resurgent Belarusian, who was playing her first tournament in six months, though Stephens was producing some high-quality shots as well. It proved to be costly as Stephens eventually rode on her high confidence, rattling off 12 of the last 13 points to triumph in straight sets.