What do you make of Sloane Stephens? Over the last year she has made a quick rise and much of it started at the 2012 French Open when she made the fourth round. Her charm and fantastic personality was infectious. Like opening a bottle of champagne and having the bubbles tickle your face.
This year at the Australian Open she made the semis after a massive upset over Serena Williams and picked up the benefit of extra fan support when Victoria Azarenka was accused of unsavoury gamesmanship when they played.
Stephens let the incident go, not wanting to make a fuss about it. Probably a good move seeing that she is the newcomer on the block. I don’t mean she should roll over with relation to injustices but in this case better to keep things fresh and stay positive.
But then some of the white puffs of cloud turned into a couple dark ones as Sloane became the centre of attention when she criticised Serena Williams, suggesting she is not the person that she’s made out to be in the locker room.
Stephens says Serena has “not said one word to me, not spoken to me, not said hi, not looked my way, not been in the same room with me since I played her in Australia”. The comments received wide coverage in tennis and Stephens was stung by that. She took her bubbly personality into a bit of a shell.
Her mother tried to advise her from adding fuel, but Sloane was determined: “Like, seriously! People should know. They think she's so friendly and she's so this and she's so that — no, that's not reality! You don't unfollow someone on Twitter, delete them off of BlackBerry Messenger. I mean, what for? Why?”
Certainly Sloane is young and not savvy enough to understand the way of the world but she is learning and is understanding what can and what probably shouldn’t be said at certain times. Adding to it all was the fact that wins were few and far between which only added to her frustration.
However, after the negativity it seems like things have started to settle down again for her. There is no doubt she loves the big stage and the attention is fun. Which 20 year old girl would suggest otherwise? She didn’t think twelve months down the track she’d be reliving it all again.
“Leaving here last year I never would have thought I would make the semis of a Grand Slam and have done all these great things, being in this position I am now, top 20 and all this other stuff” she said. “It’s exciting. It’s fun and I’m enjoying it. I think that’s all you can really take from it. Next year I may be in a completely different situation.”
She loves Paris. It’s her favourite place. The shopping, the Champs Elysees, the Eiffel Tower and, like me, Haagen-Dazs ice cream.
“I don't know what's wrong with Häagen‑Dazs; they have a flavour here in Europe that they don't have in the United States, it's called Macadamia Nut Brittle,” she said with her face in that familiar smile. “It's my favourite, and they don't have it in the States. I have to get it here every day so I can like ‑‑ you know, they don't have if in the U.S., so it's just kind of ‑‑ it's a bug.”
At last it seems like the girl we fell in love with when she made her break was starting to surface again. She was not as tense and the fun was coming back.
She said: “I don't think it has anything to do with tennis. I think it's just I'm really enjoying myself off the court. I mean, more shopping ‑‑ like every day I'm buying stuff. People don't understand, like at 20 years old I can do whatever I want. So I think I just had to realize that again.”
Asked if that will stop and maybe the real world will enter, Stephens was cheeky, in a nice way: “I don't live in the real world, so I don't know. But hopefully it never stops. I mean, there are no other 20 years olds like me. Might be a few, like Miley Cyrus or something, but other than that I'm pretty much riding solo on this train.”
So being Sloane Stephens seems like fun: “Always. Every day. It's a blast.”
For tennis that can only be good.