Sloane sails past Muguruza

 - Sarah Edworthy

The 2018 finalist triumphs over 2016 champion to reach the last eight.

Sloane Stephens and Garbine Muguruza© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

“I try to approach each match like a final,” a resurgent Garbine Muguruza had said before this brutal fourth-round challenge.

Sloane Stephens was also intent on bringing her ruthless best to Court Philippe-Chatrier. “When you’re playing for a spot in the quarters of a Slam, you just gotta leave everything out there and see what happens,” she said.

After one hour and 40 minutes of intense aggression on Sunday, it was the American who proved to be the immoveable object in this blockbuster match-up between the only two Grand Slam champions left in the bottom half of the draw.

With unnerving silence compared to the gasps of effort that accompanied Muguruza’s every strike, Stephens, the 2018 Roland-Garros runner-up, gradually eased into impregnable form and sailed 6-4, 6-3 into a quarter-final contest with Johanna Konta of Great Britain.

“She's been playing some good tennis, and I think so have I, so it was kind of just a little battle, but obviously the score sometimes doesn't reflect what was actually happening out there," said Stephens.

"She's a very aggressive player. She always hits her shots. And I think for me, I take a bit to adjust. So I knew I just had to stay in there and hang in there and eventually my balls would start dropping and I would be able to control the court a little bit better, and that's exactly what I did.”

Since the start of the 2018 season, Stephens has become famous for vaulting off a third-round victory into a deep run. Her battle on Friday with Polona Hercog - which included four squandered match points in the second set and a treacly path to wrap up victory in the decider – had duly sharpened the No.7 seed’s indomitable game.

Despite another bout of match-point-itis against Muguruza, Stephens simply absorbed everything the 2016 Roland-Garros champion threw at her, setting up her fifth match point with an ace and looking on track, you have to say, for another meeting with Simona Halep in the final.

This was an awesome display from the 26-year-old against a heavyweight two-time Grand Slam champion. Stephens has now won 10 of her last 11 matches on the Paris clay, and dropped only one set in her 2019 campaign.

“Generally I'm just very calm," she said. "Everyone has different body types and emotions and whatever you may call it, and I'm very calm.”

Most tennis sages had predicted Muguruza to assert superiority, thanks to her power game’s tendency to gather momentum on her beloved Paris clay. If her three-set tussle with American Taylor Townsend in the first round re-set her compass, surely her straight-set dispatch of No.9 seed Elina Svitolina announced she had rediscovered her imperious form?

Stephens settles

But no. The Spaniard broke serve to love in under a minute in the first game, but in the sixth game Stephens struck back to level the score and inexorably turned into a wall of resistance. Balls that would have penetrated the defence of many a top-10 player just kept coming back at Muguruza. The No.19 seed couldn’t rely on the net play which worked so well against Svitolina because she struggled to dictate play.

Stephen's next opponent, Konta, has beaten her twice this year, including on the clay in Rome.

Records don’t daunt the American. “I'm just going to go in with a clean slate. Really, like I said, we play a sport, so you never know what's going to happen on the day," she said.

"So I just put all of that out of my mind and just go and play a quarterfinals Grand Slam match like I know how to.”