Sloane Stephens has advanced to the third round of the 2012 French Open.
© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
PARIS, France - Sloane Stephens defines exuberance, on court and off. She's a fun-loving, extroverted person with a colorful game that has few subtleties. Maybe she will mellow with age, but at this point the 19-year-old is inhaling every new experience in the tennis world.
And the tennis world is happy to take her in, because she has a big personality, a big game and is showing with each passing month that she is going to be a player to be reckoned with for years to come.
She has reached the third round of Roland Garros for the first time, thumping fellow American Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the second round.
"It's awesome," Stephens said. "I have to say I guess this is my second favorite Slam, because I guess the home Slam would be my favorite Slam. So I think making third round, it feels really nice and I'm really excited."
Stephens had a slow start to the clay court season but then qualified for Estoril and Rome and reached the semifinals of Strasbourg the week before Roland Garros. The Florida native is quick, powerful and has terrific balance. As her Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez has said about her, she just needs to find ways to put the pieces of her game together.
"Clay is my favorite surface, so for me, I enjoy it no matter what," she said. "All the titles I've won have pretty much been on clay. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing, but in juniors I played really well on clay. I think I won a junior tournament in Italy, and then I made semis [in Paris] in juniors. I think that kind of sparked like a something in me and I just fell in love with it. Ever since then, I've kind of just been a clay court lover."
Stephens is one of three U.S. women left in the draw, with Christina McHale and Varvara Lepchenko, both of who won their matches on Thursday, but are on the other side of the draw. She isn’t the type of person who wants accolades poured on her just because she has potential. She has worked hard to get where she is and will soon be the youngest member of the top 60 - if not higher.
"Everyone has it earn their way," she said. "If you're not playing well, you're not giving results, everyone is going to pick on you obviously. That's just the name of the game. When you're doing well, everyone loves a winner. Obviously when you're doing well all the media going to be like, 'Oh, you're awesome; you're this; you're that; you're the next star.' But I think you get from the media what you give to them, so they kind of feed off of what you're doing. So if you're doing well, then, yay. It's good for you."
Stephens will face France's Mathilde Johansson in the third round and if she wins that match she will put herself into the thick of the race for the last singles spot on the U.S. Olympic team. She will pass Vania King and will be neck and neck with Lepchenko.
Johansson may not be a household name in the U.S. but she is very capable player who will have the crowd behind her and who upset 24th seed Petra Cetkovska in the third round. But Stephens is more than able too: not only did she dust Mattek 6-1, 6-1, but she took down Russian Ekaterina Makarova in the first round, the same woman who upset Serena Williams at the Australian Open.
"I'm ready," Stephens said. "I actually know her because her sister went to UCLA and played on the team there, so I got pretty familiar with her sister. She always talked about her [Mathilde]. It'll be an interesting match. I've seen her a lot. Actually I probably see her every week because we're in the same tournaments. It'll be a good match, and I'm excited."
Stephens, who was a member of the U.S. Fed Cup team for the first time in the American victory over Ukraine in April, also reached the third round of the 2011 US Open. She is not shy about her future prospects.
Her mother, Sybil Smith, was a record-setting swimmer at Boston University during the 1980s that never lost a race in dual meet competition in four years. Sloane would like to go undefeated one year at Roland Garros, too.
"In 10 years I better have won this one time at least, otherwise I will be one unhappy camper," she said with a smile. "But that's kind of far ahead. But maximize potential. That's all you can really hope for."