Stephens sets Keys semi-final clash

All-American semi-final cemented after US Open champ Stephens breezes past Russia's Kasatkina on Tuesday.

Sloane Stephens© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

A certain air of freedom is known to kick in after clawing back from the precipice of defeat to emerge an unlikely victor.

Some end up riding that borrowed time all the way to the title.

Sloane Stephens is certainly feeling that freedom now.

The US Open champion is playing with little to lose on her extended stay in Paris, as evident in her complete dismantling of Russian Daria Kasatkina at Roland-Garros on Tuesday.

The American’s 6-3 6-1 trouncing of the 21-year-old came on the heels of the hiding she handed the in-form Anett Kontaveit, and in stark contrast to the struggle she survived from two match points down against Camila Giorgi in the third round.

“I'm super-excited again to have my best result here, obviously, being in another semis of a slam is amazing,” Stephens smiled. “I knew I needed to keep swinging no matter what, even if it was very close, so that's what I did. And when I got my opportunity at 4-3 to break, I was like, ‘It's go time’.”

A rematch of her US Open final against countrywoman Madison Keys awaits.

Should Stephens win that and the subsequent decider to secure a second Grand Slam title, she would follow in the footsteps of Caroline Wozniacki. In January, the Dane saved match points in her second round match Down Under before going all the way to her maiden major.

Stephens had already labelled her run to the quarter-finals a personal milestone having bowed out four times previously in the fourth round. It could explain why the US Open champion looked so at ease on Friday, teeing off at will to leave Kasatkina scrambling about the baseline, skidding wide and throwing up defensive lobs just to stay alive.

The Russian 15th seed had beaten Stephens en route to the Indian Wells final in March and on Sunday returned to finish off a fourth-round upset of second seed Wozniacki in a match held over two days.

While tired, Kasatkina admitted she had come up against a better opponent on the day. “I was feeling that the conditions was pretty good for her, better than for me, because I couldn't make a winner,” Kasatkina said.

“Anything I was spinning, it was just on a good spot for her. And she was moving unbelievable.”

With former world champion boxer Mike Tyson watching on, Stephens’ tactics were clear from the get-go. As the heavier hitter of the two, the match would be won or lost on her terms with Kasatkina having to counterpunch, hoping to outmanoeuvre her opponent or wait for the error.

For Stephens, the winners flowed and those errors never really came.

When Kasatkina cooked a forehand some two metres long to hand the American a point for a double break in set number two, it was clear this just was not her day.

Stephens powered to a third straight break of serve to seal the result and set a meeting with Keys, a close friend against whom she owns a 2-0 record.

“I think everything will be normal. And then when we get on the court, it's time to compete,” Stephens said. “Until then, we're the same girls as always.

“That was the biggest moment of both of our careers last year playing in the finals of the US Open. I think here a lot has happened since then.”

If Stephens does carry that air of freedom all the way there is one member of her small support crew who has botched his chance of seeing her land a second major.

“Well, my brother was supposed to come and he lost his passport at LAX, so that's minus one person,” Stephens said. “I wouldn't let him come now. Are you kidding me? He missed his opportunity.”