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Stephens leading American surge on clay

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Originally published on: 29/05/12 00:00

American players have often struggled on clay, but Sloane Stephens loves the surface. The 19-year-old from Florida won her first match in the main draw at the French Open when she beat Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova 6-4, 7-6 and talked afterwards about her affection for clay.

“All the titles I've won have pretty much been on clay,” she said. “In juniors I played really well on clay. I think I won a junior tournament in Italy and then I made the semis here in juniors. I think that sparked something in me and I just fell in love with it. Ever since then, I've just been a clay-court lover.”

After the first two days of play at Roland Garros, American women had won all 10 of their matches. “Everyone always says that we're not good on clay, but that will prove them wrong,” Stephens said. “I don’t think anything's changed. It's always been the same. Maybe people got tough draws before. I don't know what methods people are using or what's been different, but we're winning. Maybe it's a little bit of extra firepower or some extra ‘come-ons’ or some heart. I'm not sure.”

Stephens, who this week rose to a career-high No.70 in the world rankings, is playing in only her fourth Grand Slam tournament. She qualified for last year’s French Open before losing in the first round to Britain’s Elena Baltacha and won her first Grand Slam matches at the US Open, beating Hungary’s Reka-Luca Jani and Israel’s Shahar Peer before going out to Ana Ivanovic. She also won a match at this year’s Australian Open, against Spain’s Silvia Soler-Espinosa.

Christina McHale (aged 20), Coco Vandeweghe (20), Lauren Davis (18), Grace Min (18) and Stephens head a group of emerging young Americans. “Starting from last year at the US Open, when we all had some pretty good results, I think that sparked something,” Stephens said. “I think since last year we've made a big push and everyone has seen that.”

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