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Sloane Stephens' strategy on wasted match points: Forget 'em

PARIS (AP) — Mulling over what might have been is never a great tactic in tennis. Just ask Sloane Stephens, who managed to regroup from four wasted match points in the second set of a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 win over 71st-ranked Polona Hercog on Friday to reach the fourth round of the French Open.

"Honestly, I don't even remember what happened. It seems like so long ago. But I know that I didn't win them. That was the main point of that," Stephens said after the draining victory on the hottest day of the tournament so far — with temperatures soaring to nearly 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 Celsius) after the much cooler and rainy opening days.

With second-seeded Karolina Pliskova losing to Petra Martic, No. 7 Stephens is the highest-ranked player remaining in the bottom half of the draw. But her next opponent, 2016 Roland Garros champion Garbiñe Muguruza, is looking more and more dangerous every match.

Stephens, last year's runner-up in Paris and the 2017 U.S. Open champion, quickly stormed to a 4-0 lead in the third against Hercog then held herself together when it got close at the end "After the second set I just tried to regroup. I got off to a good start and just tried to hang with it," the American said. "When you have match points like that, you have to put it out of your mind, otherwise it just stays with you, lingers, brings you down. It's no fun."

With both players hitting the ball tentatively in the final games, Stephens finally whipped an inside-out forehand winner on her sixth match point, then celebrated with a scream and fist pumps. Earlier this week, Stephens credited her engagement last month to U.S. national soccer player Jozy Altidore with helping her tennis.

"When your home life is good and your family is good and you're happy, I think that definitely does affect how you play on court," she said. The other fourth-round matchups set Friday: No. 23 Donna Vekic vs. No. 26 Johanna Konta; Marketa Vondrousova vs. No. 12 Anastasija Sevastova; and Kaia Kanepi vs. Martic.

Muguruza dispatched ninth-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-3 6-3. "She's playing well; I'm playing well. I think it's a good matchup," Stephens said. "You're playing for a spot in the quarters of a Slam. Just got to leave everything out there and see what happens."

And if match points — or any important point for that matter — go wasted, quickly move on.

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

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