'Happy' Sloane braced for Garbi

 - Reem Abulleil

Ex-world No.1 Lindsay Davenport givers her thoughts on Stephens' chances in Paris.

Sloane Stephens third round roland garros 2019©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Sloane Stephens is in a happy place. And when she is, she tends to bring out her best on the court.

At least that’s what former world No.1 and Tennis Channel pundit Lindsay Davenport believes.

Stephens, the No.7 seed who squares off with 2016 Roland-Garros champion Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round today, loves red clay, especially if it’s Parisian.

A runner-up here last year to Simona Halep, she is a former US Open champion and is into the second week at Roland-Garros for the sixth time in her career.

Recently engaged to US football star Jozy Altidore, Stephens came to Paris in a far more stable place than she was at the start of the year, having teamed up with new coach Sven Groeneveld.

The 26-year-old admits the time she spent without a coach – after she parted ways with Kamau Murray at the start of the year – was challenging and she’s pleased to now have someone like Groeneveld, who previously worked with Maria Sharapova, in her corner.

“I'm not gonna lie. It sucked,” Stephens says of that period she was flying solo.

“It was not enjoyable. I mean, it was just all over the show. We don't need to go back there. We are totally moving forward.”

Straight-set wins over Misaki Doi and Sara Sorribes Tormo, and a three-setter against Polona Hercog, have earned Stephens a spot in the last 16 and Davenport is impressed by her compatriot this fortnight.

“I always look at, like if Sloane is happy – Sloane could not be happier right now in her personal life; knowing her and seeing her around quite a bit, she plays well when she’s happy, and she’s incredibly happy right now,” three-time Grand Slam Davenport told rolandgarros.com.

“So number one: check the box. You want to see that with her.

“She knows how to play on this surface, she can play offence, she can play defence. We saw last year how well she can move on this surface. In the final last year against Halep, she got a little fatigued. And Halep is not going to get fatigued on this surface.

“We’ll see. You’ve got to be able to leg out two, three-hour matches a couple of times in a row if needed. She can do it. Can she do it time and time again? We’ll have to see.”

Stephens is 1-1 against Muguruza but neither one of those meetings have come on clay. Muguruza won their Wuhan clash in 2015, while Stephens levelled their head-to-head with victory over the Spaniard in Miami last year.

Like Stephens, Muguruza has a remarkable record at Roland-Garros. The former world No.1 and two-time major champion has won 84.4% of her matches on Parisian clay (won 27, lost 5) and is into the fourth round for a sixth straight year.

Stephens has a 77% success rate here in the French capital but will face a stiff challenge from the 19th-seeded Muguruza, whose tough path saw her claim wins over Taylor Townsend, Johanna Larsson and Elina Svitolina during opening week.

Still, the Florida native can rely on the positive energy she’s been carrying, and exuding, as of late, to propel her through.

“Definitely 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,” says Stephens.  

“Obviously travelling, being away from home and having a good, like, support system at home while you're away I think is really important. It's not easy being on the road for four or five weeks at a time, sometimes even six weeks, girls go way longer than that.

“So yeah, it's not easy. But as long as you have a good support system and a good team and you make sure that things are well at home or whatever. For everyone it's different, I'm sure, but for me, as long as things are good and everyone is good, my grandparents are good, I'm, yeah, I'm happy.”