Forget Emily, it's Sloane in Paris

The American’s Roland-Garros CV is eye-popping

Sloane Stephens, Roland-Garros 2023, third round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT
 - Chris Oddo

The words emanate from her lips nearly every time Sloane Stephens makes an appearance on the hallowed terre battue at Roland-Garros: “Happy to be in the fourth round of one of my favourite tournaments.”

Rinse, lather, repeat. 

For the ninth time in 12 career appearances, Stephens has done the trick in Paris, after toppling Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, on Friday in Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

In a tournament where upsets tend to reign supreme, Stephens has been bullet-proof in the early rounds, shaking off would be challengers with a mesmerising brand of clay-court tennis that is both aesthetically pleasing and ruthlessly efficient.

Stephens, an effortless mover and a nuanced tactician on the sports’ slowest surface, simply has a way of making winning look like a piece of cake at Roland-Garros. 

Last year the Florida native entered the main draw without a single clay-court win to her name. 

Didn’t matter. 

Stephens reached all the way to the quarter-finals, her first run that deep at a major since 2019 at – you guessed it – Roland-Garros. 

“I don't think you ever know when it's gonna happen or when it's gonna click,” Stephens said at the time, after defeating France’s Diane Parry to reach the round of 16 for the eighth time. 

Are we not sensing a pattern here? 

In 2023, after winning 10 of her last 12 matches across all levels on European clay, Stephens came to Paris hungry for more wins – and more of the diverse culinary offerings available in the French capital. 

“I had Chinese last night, and the night before I had Indian. I'm going to Korean barbecue [tonight],” the 30-year-old told reporters on Friday. “It's great here. I've always been here for a long time and been into week two a lot so I have enjoyed my time here.”

Sloane Stephens, Roland-Garros 2023, second round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

Now carrying an eye-popping 35-11 lifetime record at the clay-court major, Stephens is hungry for a shot to take down No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka in the round of 16. The American has lost all three battles with the world No.2 in three sets, but they have never met on clay. 

“I think it will be a great match,” Stephens said. “Obviously in the fourth round of a Slam on my favourite surface. It's obviously another opportunity to go out there and play and try to make the quarters of a Grand Slam. Who doesn't want to do that?”

For the record, Stephens is no stranger to taking down big names at Roland-Garros. The American has come away victorious in six of her last seven clashes with top-20 players in Paris. The only loss on that list, notably, was a three-set decision at the hands of Simona Halep in the 2018 final

Sloane Stephens, Roland-Garros 2023, third round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

That was Stephens’ most difficult loss at Roland-Garros. Leading by a set and a break against the Romanian, she lost the script as Halep powered to her first major title. 

Stephens took the defeat in stride and showed nothing but class in the aftermath. 

“I think winning here is very special for her and I'm glad she finally got her first Slam,” she said after the final. “It's a beautiful thing, very special. No matter how hard the adversity that you go through, there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and I'm glad she finally got her light.” 

If there is such a thing as good karma at Roland-Garros, Stephens may have earned it with those words. 

In the city of light, maybe her time in the light is coming… 

Sloane Stephens et Simona Halep, Roland-Garros 2018©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT