Elena Vesnina probably should have won the first set of Sunday’s Volvo Car Open final, and today maybe driving the flashy brand new Volvo that went to the champion.
Truthfully, Vesnina just blew the opportunity with her aggression.
But for the immediate future of the tournament, Sloane Stephens’ win was the best thing that could have happened in this inaugural Volvo Car Open.
Five years ago, out on the Club Court at Family Circle Tennis Center, it was almost impossible not to recognize the immense talent of an 18-year-old who glided around the court like a ballet dancer. Not too much power in those days, just silky smooth movement.
She made some errors, even then, but not enough to prevent her from winning a pair of qualifying matches to advance to the main draw of the 2011 Family Circle Cup.
Stephens had won only one match on Daniel Island since then, until the new Volvo cars showed up at the tennis center during the past week. She had paid the price.
Stephens could be the face of this tournament for many years to come. She has the game and the winning personality to take over this event.
Who knows how many Volvos she could have in her garage by the time she’s the age of 34-year-old Serena Williams?
Everyone soon will recognize the name Sloane, if they don’t already. Just as they know Serena and Venus.
They say in football, and some other sports, that defense will win almost every time. And defense surely won for Sloane on Sunday afternoon before a large and appreciative crowd at Volvo Car Stadium.
You almost had to feel sorry for the 29-year-old Vesnina. She had come so far since arriving in town for last weekend’s qualifying tournament.
Vesnina pounded balls to every corner of Billie Jean King Court, only to see Stephens virtually floating to them and getting her racket in front of them.
Stephens’ “easy power” had kept Vesnina at bay while charging to a 5-2 lead in the first set. But then Vesnina caught fire with her all-out full-court assault and finally appeared to be on the verge of taking the set.
It was then that Stephens demonstrated experience beyond her 23 years as she patiently guided her defensive returns to the other side of the court to an opponent who had turned up her full-attack mode one notch too high.
A set point quickly disappeared for Vesnina, thanks to a netted backhand. Two more aggressively hit balls later that went astray, and the tide had changed as a tiebreaker would decide the first set.
Six points into the tiebreaker (3-3), Stephens switched from her casual power game to big power with three outright winners in the next five points to take the first set.
Vesnina never gave up, but by then Stephens had fallen back into her “easy power” mode. And the finish line was in sight in a 7-6, 6-2 win.
Reach James Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org.