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Saturday, September 1, 2012
Sloane Stephens is out, but not down

By Jane McManus

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. -- Sloane Stephens didn't seem stung or dejected after a three-set loss to Ana Ivanovic on Saturday night. Fresh off the Arthur Ashe show court, she expressed some disappointment in her serve but also reflected upon a pretty successful Grand Slam season, which included reaching the third round of the U.S. Open.

"It's not like it's my last Open," Stephens said in the way only a 19-year-old can.

Confident, yes, but most likely on the money as well. Stephens woke up with an ill-timed sore abdominal muscle. It got to her a few times in the match and could have affected her service games. She was broken seven times.

"I had some really good moments," Stephens said. "I like being out there. Every moment out there it's like crazy dramatic."

Earlier in the day, Serena Williams talked about her budding relationship with the young American, noting that she gives advice, though not as specific as breaking down tape on opponents or technique stuff. The two struck up a friendship in February.

"She'll be fine," said Williams, seeded fourth. "She's a great player."

Stephens let out a wry laugh when asked what kind of advice her mentor would give her after the 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-2 loss.

"I don't even want to think about it," she said, closing her eyes. "Well, I hope they play in the quarters so I can watch. That's all I know."

Ivanovic, the No. 12 seed, would face Williams if each wins her next match. Ivanovic does not have the reputation of a great comeback player, but can take some steam from the win over Stephens.

"She's improved a lot since last year," Ivanovic said, "as I remembered."

Stephens, one of the most anticipated American women players in years, has not quite yet arrived in New York despite her advertising presence on buses and in subways for the event.

Call it building her fan base. Saturday night against Ivanovic, who was by luck of the draw the same player she lost to in 2011, the American fans knew who she was and pulled for her accordingly.

And she gave them someone to root for, with improved speed on her serve and a stronger forehand. Some of her winners zinged straight to the corners. When broken, she often broke back.

"I love improving, and I love seeing myself get better," Stephens said. "I like going on the court and being able to do different things, being like, 'Oh I mastered that,' or, 'Oh that's really cool I was able to do that.' I think for me I want to keep that mindset, and I want to keep moving forward and not backwards.

"Maybe next year I'll be like in the top 10 or something, and you guys can be like, 'Yeah, remember you said that in your press conference?'"