MELBOURNE, Australia – Tennis rivals don’t normally get messages from their opponent’s mother wishing them well in the next round. Particularly after a defeat.
Moments after American Sloane Stephens beat fellow teenager Laura Robson of Britain 7-5, 6-3 in a third-round match at the Australian Open on Saturday, she received a text.
“She was like, ‘Great job, good fight.’ And she said, ‘Cathy says great job and good luck in the next round,’ ” Stephens said of the message her mother relayed from Robson’s mother, Cathy.
Stephens, 19, and Robson, 18, are two of the most promising young talents on the women’s tour, and the match between them felt like a glimpse of future Grand Slam encounters – perhaps a bit later than the third round.
They also happen to be friends – and their mothers are friends, too. “We’re turning into the Fed-Nadal rivalry,” Stephens said, jokingly.
She did think they’ll get a larger venue than Court 2 next time. “I don’t think we’ll play that court ever again.”
There are certainly enough similarities between the players to suggest a rivalry could be in the making.
Both are close in age – Stephens is nine months older than Robson, whose 19th birthday is on Monday.
Both are coming off breakthrough years. Stephens reached the fourth round at the French Open and rose to No. 38 in the rankings by the end of 2012, becoming the only teenager in the top 50. And Robson defeated two former Grand Slam champions – Kim Clijsters and Li Na – to reach the fourth round at the U.S. Open and rise to 53rd in the rankings by the end of the year.
And both are being touted as future stars in their respective countries – Stephens as a future replacement for the Williams sisters at the top of the game and Robson as the next hope for British tennis on the women’s side, which hasn’t seen a Grand Slam champion since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977.
Such was the interest in their match that Stephens bumped former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who won her third-round match around the same time Saturday, out of the schedule for the main interview room at Melbourne Park after both of them came off the court.
The match itself, however, nearly didn’t live up the billing.
Stephens broke Robson twice to race out to a 4-0 lead in the first set before Robson, troubled by a sore shoulder, called for a medical timeout to have treatment.
Robson picked up her game after the break. Cheered on by the highly partisan crowd – Robson was born in Melbourne before moving to Britain – she began hitting shots deep into the corners and forcing errors from Stephens, leveling the score at 4-4.
Robson would be undone by her own errors, though. Stephens broke her at 6-5 to capture the first set and then again in the fourth game of the second set to close out the match.
• In other action: Maria Sharapova beat Kirsten Flipkens 6-1, 6-0 to continue a dominant and unparalleled run to the Australian Open quarterfinals. The No. 2-ranked Sharapova conceded only five games en route to the quarterfinals, a record at the season’s first major. She next plays fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova, who ousted fifth-seeded Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-4, in a rematch of their quarterfinal here last year. … No. 2-ranked Roger Federer knocked Bernard Tomic out of the tournament after an instant reality check by breaking him in the very first game, ending Tomic’s run of 76 service games unbroken, to set up a 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-1 win. It was Federer’s 250th win at a Grand Slam event. He next plays big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, who had 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-4 win over Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber.