Boulter put up a decent fight in an entertaining match on Court 17, but Stearns made for an athletic and unrelenting opponent. Her forehand is very much her weapon, and she completed her 6-4, 6-3 victory with a venomous inside-out strike for a clean winner.
Afterwards, Boulter admitted that she had been a little naïve in hitting so many balls to that wing. “Her forehand is, is one of the best, I would say, on the women’s side,” she told reporters. “I played a little bit into it today. And that’s where I have to learn.
“Tonight hurt me,” added Boulter, who did at least make more inroads here than she had in her two previous visits to the last 32 of a major. (Both of those matches were played at Wimbledon, and both saw her go down by identical 6-1, 6-1 scorelines.)
“It was tough walking off that court but that is what makes me a better tennis player,” Boulter concluded. “If this year has shown me anything, it’s that I want more. And I really want to be greedy. I want to get to a place where I feel like I’m satisfied. I’m happy and I’m appreciative that I’m at my career-high ranking but I’ve got so much more work to do and I don’t feel like I’ve reached my maximum potential yet. I’m going to keep building until I get it, no matter how long it takes me.”
This was the second time that these two had come face to face this year, and on both occasions they have been ranked very close together. But whereas they stood around the No140 mark when Stearns won a 3hr 22min cliffhanger in February, they are now both pushing towards the top 50.
On Saturday’s evidence, Stearns is still a long way short of her ceiling. She dropped serve only once in the match, maintaining an excellent length and weight of shot, and thus earning her place in the second week of a grand slam for the first time.
In fact, this is only her fourth major tournament, because she was a student at Texas University until recently. Having won the national collegiate singles championship last year, she decided to turn pro, taking inspiration from the former university champion – and 2022 Australian Open finalist – Danielle Collins.
This match was originally intended to be played on the Grandstand court, but organisers had what Boulter called a “last minute” rethink after a scheduling bungle. Her boyfriend Alex De Minaur tried to inspire her from courtside after his own comfortable third-round win over Nicolas Jarry, but to no avail.
Will she stay around in New York to watch De Minaur’s progress? “I would obviously love to but I haven’t chatted to my coach yet. I don’t know my exact schedule. If I do, I’ll be watching Jack as well. What he has done is so impressive. I don’t think anyone quite understands how hard it is to come back from an injury [in this case the torn shoulder tendon that Draper suffered at May’s French Open]. And he’s out here in the fourth round of a slam for the first time, playing some of his best tennis.”