The tight-packed draw at the Connecticut Open held in New Haven features a blockbuster first round match-up as the in-form player and home favorite Sloane Stephens faces off against the fifth seed and world number eighteen Elena Vesnina, with the win being very crucial for both players heading into the US Open.
Stephens’ recent results
Returning from an elevnen month layoff due to a serious foot injury, Stephens impressively reached the semifinals of both the Rogers Cup and the Western and Southern Open. The American returned to the top 100 of the rankings despite being ranked outside the top 900 before these two magical weeks. The run ironically started after Stephens lost the first set, but regained her composure to claim the first win of her comeback against Yulia Putintseva in the first round of the Rogers Cup.
She then defeated 14th seed Petra Kvitova in three sets, before thrashing the world number three Angelique Kerber in just 58 minutes, losing just a mere four games along the way. Saving a couple of match points, her Cinderella run continued as she ousted the former top 10 player Lucie Safarova 7-5 in the decider, but she failed to earn a perfect end to the tournament as she fell in straight sets to Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals.
However, it turned out that there was more to the plot as another semifinal run came in Cincinnati. It was a rematch of the thrilling quarterfinal match in Toronto but the outcome remained the same as Stephens outgunned Safarova in straight sets, before earning a second win over Kvitova in as many weeks.
Despite looking down-and-out in the opening stages, Stephens recovered from an early deficit to prevail in three tight sets against the in-form Ekaterina Makarova before sealing her place in the semifinals with a straightforward win over Julia Goerges. However, it was yet another semifinal finish for the American as Simona Halep, who was going for the top ranking, dominated their encounter and allowed Stephens to just three games on her way to victory.
Vesnina’s recent results
Vesnina is currently on a poor run especially after falling in the second round of the Rogers Cup and the Western and Southern Open, both Premier 5 tournaments where she had the golden opportunity to add points to her ranking. In Toronto, the Russian put up an impressive performance to defeat Alison Riske in the first round before narrowly falling to Ashleigh Barty in a tight match where she failed to capitalize on her opportunities. Nevertheless, Vesnina stormed to win the doubles title along with Ekaterina Makarova without losing a set in the same week, rebounding from her disappointing singles campaign.
Handed a very tough draw in Cincinnati, Vesnina was able to prevail in an all-Top 20 encounter in the opening round as she recovered from a 2-4 deficit in the final set to outgun Caroline Garcia in three sets. However, she was unable to overcome a second Caroline in a row, this time falling to Wozniacki in the second round.
Head to Head
The pair has only met twice in the past with the affairs being split evenly between both. However, it was Vesnina who triumphed in their only hard-court meeting thus far, triumphing in straight sets at the Hobart International back in 2013, and the Russian went on to win the title. It is also notable that Stephens stormed to the semifinals of the Australian Open a week after that encounter. Their last meeting came at the Volvo Car Open in the final just last year, with the American triumphing in two straight sets for the title.
Stephens would look to dictate play throughout the match against Vesnina, who is also a fellow hard-hitter. Her powerful groundstrokes are unstoppable if they were to be firing on all cylinders, especially her formidable double-handed backhand shot. Her serve is also a powerful weapon which could earn her some free points. She is also able to turn defense into offense easily, which is very effective against an aggressive player like the Russian. Despite not achieving much in the doubles competition, Stephens is surprisingly dominant at the net, being able to kill off points there.
Vesnina plays an offensive-baseline game and aims to control play throughout the rallies. Similar to Stephens, she utilizes a huge amount of power on her groundstrokes and looks to move her opponents all around the court. The Russian often goes for powerful second serves, as fast as 160 km/h, which could pose a huge danger, but it has proved to work effectively during matches.
Playing with a variety of shots, Vesnina could opt for slices and drop shots in the midst of baseline rallies to catch her opponent off-guard and also to mix up the rhythm, giving herself the time to be on the offense while her opponent rushes to the net. Being the recent Wimbledon champion in doubles and the current world number three, Vesnina could go up to the net more often to kill off a couple of points there.
The form of both players could play a major part in this encounter considering Stephens is arguably playing the best tennis of her life despite just coming back from a serious injury which forced her out of the game for 11 months, and Vesnina is currently in poor form and unable to rattle off some great wins. Therefore, with confidence and the momentum, Stephens edges this match-up.
Match Prediction: [WC] Sloane Stephens d.  Elena Vesnina in three sets
NOTE: Sloane Stephens has withdrawn from the tournament after the preview and draw was made.