Stephens shuts out noise to launch US Open defense with win

New York (AFP) –


Sloane Stephens kept her focus upon a hectic return to the US Open on Monday, launching her title defense with a 6-1, 7-5 victory over Evgeniya Rodina.

The third seed admitted she was "a little bit nervous" for her opener on the brand new Louis Armstrong Stadium court, a 12,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof next door to the massive Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The new court, designed to have a more "intimate" feel than Ashe, echoes not only with the cheers of boisterous New York fans but also with train whistles and the noise of an occasional plane overhead.

"It was just loud," said Stephens, who nevertheless insisted she enjoyed the new court.

"There was a lot going on between the airplanes and the subway behind the court, the concessions being in the lower bowl, and people walking in the games at, like, 2-All, 3-All. There's just a lot going on."

Add in the shot clocks counting the seconds between points -- a first in Grand Slam play -- and it was all a little daunting.

"I've got so much going on on the court. I'm trying to manage, like, eight different things," Stephens said.

"Oh, God, just relax a bit. It's tough, but everyone has to deal with it. Your opponent has to deal with it, as well. You've just got to work it out."

Stephens seemed to have conquered the chaos as she cruised to a 3-1 lead in the second set.

But Rodina, ranked 80th in the world, had other ideas, turning the tables to take a 5-4 lead before Stephens reasserted herself.

After narrowly holding serve for 5-5, Stephens broke Rodina at love for a 6-5 lead. She gave herself a match point with a forehand winner and sealed the win when Rodina netted a backhand.

"It's good to get through that first day," Stephens said. "First round of a Grand Slam is super tough, especially as defending champion. Super excited to get the tournament going."