July 2, 2018 / 1:47 PM / 3 months ago

Fourth seed Stephens blames Wimbledon exit on bad day

LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens tumbled out of Wimbledon on the first day on Monday, looking rusty in her 6-1 6-3 defeat by Croatia’s Donna Vekic, and blamed the result on a bad day against a good grasscourt player.

Jul 2, 2018; London, United Kingdom; Donna Vekic (CRO) and Sloane Stephens (USA) at the net after their match on day one at the All England Lawn and Croquet Club. Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

The 25-year-old fourth seed, who played no grass warm-up tournaments after reaching the final of the French Open on clay, looked uncomfortable on the fast surface, moving awkwardly and failing to find the lines.

“Today just wasn’t my day. I wish I could have played better. I wish I would have made some more balls. I wish I could have pushed her a little bit more. It just wasn’t working,” Stephens said.

She said she had found the transition from Paris to London difficult.

Jul 2, 2018; London, United Kingdom; Sloane Stephens (USA) in action during her match against Donna Vekic (CRO) on day one at the All England Lawn and Croquet Club. Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

“The balls from clay to grass are completely different. The ball stays very low here. You have to make a little bit more of an adjustment. Everyone is dealing with the same conditions, so it’s not just me.”

Vekic, winner at Nottingham last year and a semi-finalist there last month, looked more footsure and aggressive, serving powerfully and forcing her opponent into errors. After breaking serve twice, the Croatian needed only one set point and 25 minutes to wrap up the first set.

Stephens showed some steel at the start of the second set, winning the first two games to love with some powerful serve-and-volley tennis, but she could not keep the rhythm going.

Vekic, who played in three grasscourt tournaments coming into Wimbledon, won the next three games, moving nervelessly along the baseline and punishing less-than-pinpoint serves with bullet-like returns.

The Croatian’s own demon — the double fault — came back to haunt her in the sixth game. She served two in the next game out of a total of nine in the match, to offer Stephens a lifeline.

Slideshow (6 Images)

But the listless American could not take it. Her shots continued to fly wide and long off her racket and she produced 26 unforced errors in total in the match.

“Obviously (I had) a bit of confidence coming off of a French Open final, as any player would. But just today was unfortunate, unlucky. I played a good player on grass. That’s tough. Sometimes that happens.”

Stephens saved three match points before succumbing when she dumped another forehand into the net.

“I tried to be aggressive.” Vekic said of her game-plan. It was the 22-year-old’s biggest career victory.

Stephens said: “She hits very flat, which works on grass. All of her shots are pretty flat... so grass I think suits her game better.”

Stephens said she would not be staying in London. She would now concentrate on the hardcourt season and preparations for the defense of her U.S. title at the end of August.

Editing by Clare Fallon

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