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Her Wimbledon over, Stephens has big summer plans

July 2, 2013 08:20 PM
Sloane Stephens has advanced deeper than any American, man or woman, at two of the three Grand Slam events this season.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com 
WIMBLEDON, England – For 20-year-old Sloane Stephens, one of the consequences of reaching the second week of three straight majors is that eventually she would come against a top-level player who had too much experience for her on the big stage.
That was the case at the Australian Open in the semifinals against eventual champion Victoria Azarenka and at Roland Garros in the fourth round against 2012 victor Maria Sharapova. It happened again in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, with Stephens falling to 2007 finalist Marion Bartoli, 6-4, 7-5.
But in her defeats to Azarenka and Sharapova, there wasn't a tremendous amount of hurt in her voice. At Wimbledon on Tuesday, she was clearly affected because had she played her best, she might have been able to win the match.
Stephens only managed to hold serve once in the second set, an unusual for the rising star with the all-court game.
"I was disappointed in myself because I know I probably could have given a little bit more," Stephens said afterward.  "Just kind of disappointed that my service games didn't go so well.  You have to keep learning from it and keep moving forward. I'm not going to dwell on it. I forget things easily.  I think that's a good thing. I'm just going to go back and work hard and keep going."
Stephens fought the flat-hitting Bartoli tooth and nail in the first set, but the rain began to fall with Stephens serving down 4-5 and game knotted at deuce. The match was delayed and the players were sent in the locker room for a long stretch. Stephens went to the gym to warm up three different times before they were called back on court, and when they finally returned, she was quickly broken to lose the set. 
Stephens also fell behind 2-0 in the second set before regaining her footing in the match.
One of the game’s most formidable return of servers, Bartoli climbed all over Stephens’ serve in the second set, actually winning 16 of 17 points on the American’s serve at one stretch. But the quick and game Stephens didn't break down mentally, returning brilliantly herself, going way out wide to nail forehand winners, plastering two-handed backhands and bringing the crowd to its feet.
After breaking Bartoli to 4-5, Stephens finally managed to have a positive service game to hold to 5-5, but the 28-year-old Frenchwoman held and then broke Stephens again to win the match.
"She has a lot of experience," Stephens said. "She's played for a long time, obviously. But I think you just have to find a rhythm when there's like a break or a change in scenery. Find something to do I thought I competed well.  I gave it all I had.  It really just wasn't my day."
Stephens came into the tournament ranked No. 17 and is all but guaranteed to crack the Top 15 when the rankings are released next week. After a rough winter and early spring, she has regained her level and has performed solidly since mid-May. Stephens, who is coached USTA Player Development’s David Nainkin, has been very consistent at the majors, more so then anyone else in her age group, which bodes well for her future. 
Still, the young up-and-comer, as with most young players, has areas for improvement including her backhand, transition game and net game. But what emerged at the Australian Open and over the first nine days of Wimbledon are the attributes that lead many to believe she can one day challenge for Grand Slam titles, including a tremendous amount of self-belief and a willingness to stick in each point until she can mount a comeback. 
She came up just short against Bartoli on Tuesday, but that doesn't mean Stephens will fall shy the next time she plays a Top 15 seed at a major.
"I'm definitely moving forward," she said. "I'm playing well.  Obviously quarterfinals is a good result. A lot of people didn't make the quarterfinals of Wimbledon this year, so I'm happy to say that I did make the quarterfinals here."
The American has a busy schedule planned for the summer ahead. She will play WorldTeam Tennis for the Philadelphia Freedoms and then contest Emirate Airlines US Open Series tournaments in Washington D.C., Toronto and Cincinnati before heading to New York for the US Open. After No.1 Serena Williams, she is the U.S.’s highest-ranked player and, after the Williams sisters, perhaps its most recognizable one. 
So get ready for Sloane fever, American-style in the summer of 2013.
"It's obviously definitely tough in the States," she said.  "It's much tougher than it is in Europe, because – not that they don't care about me here, but it's low-key here. But I'm excited. I don't know, maybe I'll talk to [Britain’s] Laura [Robson] and see how she feels about playing here."
To learn more about up-and-coming U.S. players and to receive the latest US Open news and information, as well as exclusive merchandise offers to the US Open Shop, sign up to become a US Open Insider.
For more Pro Tennis coverage, including coverage of Americans at the 2013 Wimbledon, go to the USTA.com Pro Tennis page


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