NEW YORK — Sloane Stephens is convinced that her run to the U.S. Open semifinals is not proof that she is back to being as good a player as she was before foot surgery took her off the tour for nearly a year.
Instead, it’s a result of being better than ever.
Able to summon big strokes when it mattered most, Stephens reached the final four at Flushing Meadows for the first time by edging 16th-seeded Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (4) for her deepest run at any major since 2013.
“My head is a little clearer, if that makes any sense,” Stephens said. “Before, obviously, I was playing well. I had won a couple tournaments and was playing well, obviously. But being injured gave me a whole new perspective on tennis, on life, and just in general.”
The 83rd-ranked American has won 13 of her past 15 matches, all on hard courts, reaching the semifinals at three consecutive tournaments for the only time in her career.
She was one of four U.S. women in the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows, the most since five made it that far 15 years ago. Stephens could face one of the others next: Her opponent Thursday will be No. 9 Venus Williams or No. 13 Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, whose match was Tuesday night.
In the top half of the draw’s quarterfinals Wednesday, No. 1 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic meets No. 20 CoCo Vandeweghe of the U.S., and No. 15 Madison Keys of the U.S. faces 418th-ranked qualifier Kaia Kanepi of Estonia.
Stephens went 11 months between tournaments because of problems with her left foot.
She had an operation in January, and while forced to stay away from her sport, she found a new appreciation for it. The time off also allowed her to enjoy other aspects of life.
“I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t do all the things that I wanted to do. But I did get to hang out with my family and see my little cousin’s soccer games and go to weddings and baby showers and stuff. All the things that I thought before I was missing out on, (now) I really wasn’t,” said Stephens, whose late father, John Stephens, was the 1988 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year for the New England Patriots, and whose mother, Sybil Smith, was Boston University’s first All-American in women’s swimming.
“It was just kind of, like, eye-opening,” Stephens added. “When I wasn’t playing, like, of course I loved my time off, but when I got back to playing tennis, it was, like, this is where I want to be. This is what I love doing.”
Stephens returned to competition at Wimbledon in July. She lost her first match back, and then her second, too, at a tournament in Washington.
“I just stayed positive,” said the 24-year-old Stephens, who lost in the Australian Open semifinals four years ago. “And then, yeah, look, there, semifinal, semifinal, semifinal. I couldn’t really ask for a better way to come back.”
Her ranking was 934th before this recent streak of success.
Sevastova, who beat Maria Sharapova in the fourth round, used all manner of mixed speeds and angles against Stephens, often winning points with the help of drop shots. Sevastova, trying to reach her first major semifinal, received treatment from a trainer late in the first set for a problem with her upper right leg, but said that was not an issue the rest of the way.
Sevastova thought she had a harder time dealing with the jitters presented by the occasion than Stephens did, even acknowledging that she relied less on drop shots late because those require gumption she couldn’t quite muster.
“I’m not a robot,” Sevastova said. “Sorry.”
Stephens was down a break at 3-1 in the third set before evening things at 3-all.
“She had better nerves in the end,” Sevastova said. “She played amazing points in the end. She deserves it.”
In the men’s quarterfinals, 12th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain had no trouble beating No. 29 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. It was Carreno Busta’s first match of the tournament against an opponent who was not a qualifier.
Carreno Busta’s debut in a Grand Slam semifinal will come Friday against No. 17 Sam Querrey of the U.S. or No. 28 Kevin Anderson of South Africa, who were scheduled to play Tuesday night.
“I know that I didn’t win matches against top players - top-10 or top-20 players,” Carreno Busta said, “but I am very happy with my tournament.”
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