As they sat in their sideline chairs after warming up under a ceiling of gray clouds at Arthur Ashe Stadium, spectators began choosing sides. One yelled, "Come on, Serena!" Another, "Go, Sloane!" Williams opened Game 1 with a 96 mph ace and closed it with a 112 mph service winner. In between, Stephens managed to return a 118 mph serve. In Game 2, Stephens cranked a forehand winner down the line that drew gasps from the stands, and moments later, won a 24-stroke exchange thanks to fantastic retrieving.
Game 4 alone lasted 18 points over 11 minutes, and featured a 119 mph service winner by Stephens, who also delivered a cross-court backhand winner to cap a 10-shot point. When that game ended, it wasn't yet time to change ends, but both women wandered over to the sideline to towel off.
Soon, Williams nosed ahead, breaking to 4-2 with a cross-court forehand return winner off a 101 mph serve, the clenching a fist and shouting, "Come on!" But she handed a break right back in the next game by double-faulting on each of the last two points.
"I have to stop that," Williams said.
After she held to 5-4, everything changed, and Stephens was mostly her own undoing. One point from making it 5-all, she rushed an easy forehand, pushing it long, and slumped her head and shoulders. Then she sailed another forehand long. And, finally, she sent a forehand wide. Each point lasted three strokes: serve, return, bad groundstroke. Just like that, Williams broke to take the first set.
Those were three of Stephens' 29 unforced errors, 16 more than Williams made.
Stephens made one last stand in the opening game of the second set, earning a break point. But Williams wound up holding with the help of a 125 mph service winner and a 123 mph ace. Stephens wouldn't get another break chance. Indeed, take away the one service game Williams lost — the one with the duo of double-faults — and she won 35 of 44 points she served.
Afterward, Stephens spoke about embracing others' expectations and her personal goal of moving into the top 10 in the rankings by year's end. She also spoke about Williams, of course, and kept returning to a concept that was rather clear on this day, saying more than once: "She's No. 1 in the world for a reason."
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