Stephens falls in 1st round at Citi Open
By BENJAMIN STANDIG, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Coaches often tell players to practice the way you play.
That strategy didn't work out for Sloane Stephens.
Playing her first match since Wimbledon, the No. 2-seeded Stephens fell to Olga Puchkova 7-5, 6-3 in the first round of the Citi Open on Monday.
"Leading up, I didn't practice that great and I just wasn't feeling the ball out there," said Stephens, who lost to eventual Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli in the quarterfinals on July 2.
"Sometimes you have days like that and it's unfortunate that it came today."
The struggles started early for the 15th-ranked Stephens, particularly with her service game.
The highest-ranked American behind Serena Williams, Stephens was broken three times in each set by the unseeded and 88th-ranked Russian.
In the men's event, Mardy Fish rebounded from an early exit in Atlanta and losing the first set to defeat qualifier Matthew Ebden 2-6, 6-1, 6-3.
After falling behind 3-0 and 4-1 in the first set, the 20-year-old Stephens worked her way back into a 5-5 tie, only to falter in the end.
After Puchkova held serve, Stephens could not do the same, unable to win a single point en route to dropping the set. The final set was more of the same.
"I couldn't really get it together, but there will be more tournaments, so it's OK," Stephens said.
She dealt with an abdominal injury earlier this summer, but said it wasn't a factor on Monday.
"I felt fine. When I'm injured, I play great. When I'm healthy I can't hit a ball on the court."
Battling back from a heart condition, Fish only played four matches in 2013 before facing Ebden, including a first-round loss last week.
After dropping the opening set, the 31-year-old Fish turned the momentum by winning the lengthy opening game of the second set. He capped the service break with a cross-court winner and took the next three games for a 4-0 lead.
Fish broke Ebden at 3-2 in the second set, leading to his first victory since March.
Fish credited his practice performance for his positive outcome.
"It feels real good. I've played well in practice, put in a lot of hours in the past, you know, I'd be remiss not to say months. But it's been months. Yeah, it's satisfying," Fish said.
Defending champion and No. 7 seed Magdalena Rybarikova rallied past Christina McHale for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory.
Playing with a wrap on her left thigh because of a lower back injury, Rybarikova twice lost serve in the opening set. The 43rd-ranked Slovak rebounded as McHale also struggled on her serve.
"Her game went down and I had my chances," said Rybarikova, who broke McHale three times in the final set. "Especially in the third set, I really played my game."
Along with Stephens, McHale is one of 11 American women ranked in the top 100.
In other first-round matches, American James Blake fell 6-2, 7-6 (6) to Marinko Matosevic while 2011 champion Radek Stepanek defeated American Steve Johnson 7-6 (3), 6-3. Xavier Malisse, Somdev Devvarman, David Goffin and Paula Ormaechea also advanced.