Tennis: US youngster loving the big stage

Erakovic conqueror keeps mind off 'stupid boys' as she focuses on favourite Open

Sloane Stephens' progress to the fourth round of the French Open continues a remarkable year for the young American.

She reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open in January by beating Serena Williams.

She moved into the top 20 in the WTA rankings. She also went through a four-month stretch in which she failed to win more than two matches in a row at any tournament. And she found herself in a bit of a brouhaha over less-than-flattering comments she made about Williams.

After a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3 victory over 92nd-ranked Kiwi Marina Erakovic on Saturday helped the US put four women in the French Open's fourth round for the first time since 2004, the 17th-seeded Stephens was asked what one thing she would change in that span since Australia.

She smiled and answered: "That boys weren't so stupid."

Yes, Stephens is every bit a 20-year-old, one with a vibrant personality and vivid sense of humour and big goals on a tennis court.

"This is my favourite tournament, so I would really, really, really love to win this tournament," she said. "I would love to win here. Every Grand Slam, I'm getting closer and closer and closer. You've just got to keep plugging away, and hopefully eventually I'll have that big trophy."

A year ago, Stephens became the first American teenager to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros since Williams in 2001.

She made it back by taking the last three games against Erakovic, earning a match against defending champion Maria Sharapova for a spot in the quarter-finals.

They have played twice previously, with Sharapova winning both in straight sets, including 6-2, 6-1 on clay at Rome last month.

"It was a couple of weeks ago, but this is a Grand Slam stage. I'm sure she will want to change a few things around and play a better match," Sharapova said. "And you expect that at this type of tournament."

The other Americans joining the No 1-ranked Williams, and Stephens in the fourth round: 54th-ranked Jamie Hampton, who stunned 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 6-1, 7-6 (7); and 67th-ranked Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who followed up her second-round upset of 2011 French Open champion Li Na by coming back to defeat 118th-ranked qualifier Paula Ormaechea, of Argentina, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3.

There hasn't been a larger group of US women to stick around this long in Paris since 2003, when there were five.

"Impressive, huh?" Hampton said. Stephens explained the French Open is her top-choice tournament for various reasons: the chances to be a tourist and see the Eiffel Tower or the Champs Elysees, a particular flavour of ice cream she only can find in Paris. And particularly the shopping. "Every day I'm buying stuff. People don't understand, at 20 years old, I can do whatever I want," she said.

Top results

1-Novak Djokovic (SRB) bt 26-Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) 6-2 6-2 6-3.

3-Rafael Nadal (ESP) bt 27-Fabio Fognini (ITA) 7-6(5) 6-4 6-4.

18-Jelena Jankovic (SRB) bt 9-Samantha Stosur (AUS) 3-6 6-3 6-4.

Jamie Hampton (USA) bt 7-Petra Kvitova (CZE) 6-1 7-6(7).

2-Maria Sharapova (RUS) bt Zheng Jie (CHN) 6-1 7-5.

- AP

- NZ Herald

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