Former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens rallied for a 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-1 win over Great Britain’s Heather Watson on Wednesday in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif.
The event, normally held in March, wasn’t played last year and was postponed earlier this year due to the pandemic. However, when several Asian events were canceled due to travel restrictions, Indian Wells jumped in to grab the fall date.
Men’s singles play is scheduled to start Thursday in the Southern California desert, and the tournament will run through Oct. 17.
Stephens picked on Watson’s second serve, winning 30 of 51 points, and the 28-year-old American converted seven of her 18 break-point opportunities.
Stephens broke serve to end the second set, then won the first five games of the third set to pull away, winning in 2 hours, 51 minutes.
“Playing Heather is always a tough match,” Stephens said. “We grew up playing juniors together, and we’re really good friends. Before the tournament, we were talking in the parking lot for an hour about everything, and how we’ve been friends for so long and how we’re able to separate the match and still be friends. Then we ended up playing each other in the first round, so that was unfortunate.
“She’s always a super-tough opponent and I always look forward to playing her. I just competed really well. After the first set, that was disappointing to lose that one, but I felt like it was a battle and I was still in the match. I knew I had to keep fighting and that’s what I did, and I’m just really pleased to have squeaked out a win here.”
Stephens is looking for her first WTA title since March 2018, and she hasn’t made a final since later that year.
Other winners Wednesday included Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva, Japan’s Misaki Doi, Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu, Russia’s Liudmila Samsonova, Poland’s Magda Linette, Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk, Croatia’s Petra Martic, Italy’s Jasmine Paolini, the United States’ Madison Keys and the Czech Republic’s Tereza Martincova.
The tournament’s top 32 seeds, led by No. 1 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, No. 2 Iga Swiatek of Poland, No. 3 Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic and No. 4 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, received first-round byes.
Emma Raducanu, the 18-year-old British player who made a stunning run to the U.S. Open championship last month, will open against Aliaksandra Sasnovich. The Belarusian player beat Colombia’s Maria Camila Osorio Serrano 6-0, 6-4.
Ranked 150th in the world at the start of the U.S. Open, Raducanu is the 17th seed at Indian Wells.
Leylah Fernandez, the 19-year-old Canadian who fell to Raducanu in the U.S. Open final, will face France’s Alize Cornet in her initial match. Cornet beat Romanian qualifier Elena-Gabriela Ruse 6-3, 7-6 (5). Fernandez is seeded 23rd.
–Field Level Media