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A Little Fall of Rain Makes a Big Difference in Sloane Stephens’s Win

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Sloane Stephens, the defending women’s champion, and Victoria Azarenka were grinding it out from the baseline in their third-round match at the United States Open when mother nature intervened on Friday.

A light rain shower prompted a brief delay as tournament officials called for the retractable roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium to be closed. Both players retreated to the locker room. Stephens, whose serve had just been broken by Azarenka, took advantage of the opportunity to change into a fresh dress and refocus.

“I was like, All right, keep fighting, keep playing,” she recalled telling herself.

Once play resumed, Stephens, the No. 3 seed, won the next three games to close out a 6-3, 6-4 victory that sent her into the fourth round. With the losses of No. 1 Simona Halep and No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki, Stephens is the highest remaining seed in the women’s draw.

Stephens had looked slightly vulnerable ahead of the match, needing three sets — and nearly three hours — to get past Anhelina Kalinina, a little-known qualifier from Ukraine, in the second round. (By Friday, Stephens still did not know how to pronounce Kalinina’s name.)

Azarenka figured to offer a stiff test, and she did, though the final score was misleading.

“It was just a matter of a few points,” said Azarenka, a two-time U.S. Open finalist. “And those points where I still don’t do enough, they cost me the match.”

At the same time, Azarenka, who was making her first appearance at the Open since the birth of her son in 2016, said she had no doubt that the roof closure changed the momentum.

“You just have to accept,” she said. “I just think from the tournament side, if they are expecting showers, I think it might be better to just close the roof right from the beginning. I think it would just be smarter. Hopefully they will do it in the future, but I’m not going to be sitting here finding any excuses.”

In the fourth round on Sunday, Stephens will face 15th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium, who had not made it past the first round of the U.S. Open until this year. Mertens, 22, was a semifinalist at the Australian Open in January and has won three titles in 2018. She beat Stephens in the third round in Cincinnati two weeks ago.

“I was extremely tired coming off of Montreal,” Stephens said, citing the deep run she had at the tournament the week before Cincinnati. “I actually didn’t play bad, but when you don’t execute well, mentally, I was tired. I was fried.”

She added, “My legs feel a lot better than they did on whatever day I played her, I’ll tell you that much.”

In other women’s matches on Friday, No. 19 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia defeated Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2. Sevastova, who has reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals the past two years, will next play seventh-seeded Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who beat Qiang Wang of China, 6-4, 6-4.

Ash Barty, the No. 18 seed, reached the fourth round of a major for the first time, beating the Czech qualifier Karolina Muchova, 6-3, 6-4. Barty will face the American teenager Sofia Kenin or No. 8 Karolina Pliskova.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page D2 of the New York edition with the headline: Pause for Roof Closing Lets Stephens Regroup And Overtake Azarenka. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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