sloane_racquet*The gauntlet has been thrown down by charismatic American no. 2, Sloane Stephens.  In an easy breezy Day 5 match on Arthur Ashe, she overwhelmed the American woman standing in line behind her in the rankings, Jamie Hampton, to take care of her part in meeting Serena Williams in the fourth round of the US Open.

The two athletically gifted women have a turbulent history together, ranging from being called mentor and mentee to twitter deleting and trash talking in the media after Serena lost to her apparent successor in dramatic fashion at the 2013 Australian Open.  They claim to have settled their personal off-court differences, only now bestowing accolades upon one another during interviews and speaking more so to the fact that they’re “colleagues with the same goal, which is to win matches,” Sloane told legend Chrissy Everett after her third round win over Hampton.  But for some reason, I’m not buying it.

Sans an ugly first round win over Mandy Minella littered with errors and up and down moments, Stephens has been playing lights out tennis at this year’s Open.  In the second round, she took Urszula Radwanska to the woodshed, beating her 6-1, 6-1, while making only four unforced errors, then in today’s third round match, she played with a cool and steady hand, playing the right shots at the right moment, while an obviously unhinged Hampton could scarcely keep a ball in the court. Sloane only dropped serve once during the match, but quickly recovered the break to ultimately take the match, 6-1, 6-3.

serena_williamsThe meeting between the top American women didn’t nearly live up to the hype surrounding it, but that won’t likely be the case if you erase the name Hampton and pencil in Serena Williams for a fourth round dust up; needless to say, the 16-time Slam champion has been on a seek and destroy mission of her own in the first couple of rounds that she’s played

With today’s win, it will be Sloane’s first fourth round appearance at the US Open, further validating the attention she’s getting as “America’s next tennis superstar.”  Whether Serena Williams will pass the torch gracefully or on the heels of a bloody dog fight, the Sloane Stephens express is on the tracks and shows no signs of slowing down.

The ball is now in Serena’s court … she’ll play Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan in the last match on Ashe tonight.