US Open 2017 - Stephens returns with a bang
Ranked a lowly 934th in the world at the start of the US hardcourt season, Sloane Stephens has made a stunning comeback from injury. Having developed her game and rediscovered her enjoyment of it during her time on the sidelines, the 24-year-old American has stormed into the US Open semis, the latest milestone of her golden summer.
Forced to sit out last season’s US Open after fracturing her left foot at Rio 2016, Sloane Stephens has had her patience severely tested since then. After eventually undergoing surgery on the foot, she was sidelined for 11 whole months, an extended break that tested her patience but also gave her the opportunity to experience life away from the WTA Tour and realise that the game meant everything to her and that she missed it.
“After the operation I was on a peg leg for 15 weeks, and not being able to live my life the way I wanted was a humbling experience for me,” she said. “Maybe it was actually more of an awakening. I just needed to fully appreciate all the things I already had. And even though things didn’t go exactly the way I wanted during that time, I knew that one day I’d be back playing tennis. That’s what kept me going.”
934th in the world after Wimbledon, no lower than 34th by the end of the US Open!
And come back she has, producing her very best tennis faster than she could have expected. When she picked up a racquet again for the first time in May, the former world No11 – a Grand Slam semi-finalist in Australia in 2013 – would have had little idea of where her renewed passion for the game would take her. Since returning to action at Wimbledon, where she went out in the first round (which was also her fate in Washington shortly afterwards), the American has been stringing the results together, reaching the semi-finals in Toronto and Cincinnati and now repeating the feat at the US Open. In the process, she has won 13 of her last 15 matches, and having begun the US hardcourt season ranked 934th in the world, she is now guaranteed to be no lower than 34th by the end of the final Grand Slam of the year.
“If someone would have told me when I started at Wimbledon that I’d be in the semi-finals or making three semi-finals back to back, I would have said they’re crazy.” But what does she put her spectacular return to the fray down to? “I think my head is a little clearer, if that makes any sense.” Clearer than when she was knocking on the doors of the Top 10 and the spotlight was on her. By her own admission, her injury has given her a fresh take on life.
"Venus is just our leader, everyone looks up to her"
“Before, obviously, I was playing well. I’d won a couple of tournaments (Washington in 2015, and Auckland, Acapulco and Charleston in 2016) and playing well, but being injured definitely gave me a whole new perspective on tennis and life in general. I play tennis for a living. I enjoy it and I have a great time and I don’t think there’s anything else I’d rather be doing. I really love playing tennis.”
Those are the kind of words you might expect to hear from her semi-final opponent Venus Williams, a champion for whom Stephens has nothing but admiration: “Venus is just our leader, everyone looks up to her. She’s a great player, a great person. She’s a great leader. I’m just honoured to be able to play at the same time as her. I’m happy she’s still playing. She means a lot to the game.”
Make no mistake, though: showing respect is one thing and winning another. Now that she is back in the big time, Stephens has no intention of letting up, especially with a US Open semi-final providing the next stop on her comeback tour.
Serena Williams - Sloane Stephens, Roland-Garros 2015 4th round: the highlights