Sloane Stephens focuses on mind, body
Sloane Stephens has a heavy burden these days.
After she beat Serena Williams in the semifinals of the 2013 Australian Open, expectations exploded for the 20-year-old who splits her time between California and Florida.
Her results last year didn't match the magic of that Australian Open but Stephens expects 2014 to be better.
Part of the reason is her new coach, Paul Annacone, who recently parted ways with Roger Federer and who coached Pete Sasmpras to his 14th, and final, Grand Slam title.
And part of the reason, Stephens says, is the help she's starting to receive from a health company in Salt Lake City called USANA. It has an agreement with the WTA and gears its products to the individuals it represents.
"They put together a supplement specifically for me with vitamins and stuff that I take every day before I train. Everybody has their own, individual health practice," Stephens said.
Stephens is preparing for her first big tournament of the year in the U.S. The BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells began with qualifying March 3 and runs through March 16.
It is one of only three tournaments in the United States that include both men and women -- Miami and Cincinnati being the others -- in addition to the U.S. Open, a Grand Slam.
Maria Sharapova is the defending women's champion and seeded fourth. Stephens is seeded 17th and gets a first-round bye. On the men's side, Rafael Nadal is seeded first and Novak Djokovic second, with Roger Federer all the way down at No. 7.
Stephens, along with Britain's Laura Robson and Canada's Genie Bouchard, are three young players the WTA Tour expects to develop an ongoing rivalry through the years.
"I think women's tennis is in great shape," Stephens said.
Her association with Annacone, she said, has brought her some self-belief. While she beat Serena Williams, the world's top-ranked player last year, Stephens admits that sometimes she plays down to her competition and all of a sudden she is losing matches that she shouldn't.
"I don't know what it is but Paul is making my head right," Stephens said. "He's helping with my strokes, too. It's a total package -- physical, mental, everything."
Stephens said the fact that Annacone has a 20-year-old daughter has helped them relate to each other. "We're definitely different people," Stephens said, "but how can you not work with the man who coached two of the greatest men's players ever?
"We're getting along great. We work hard together. Maybe I wasn't working hard enough before. Now I have to see the results come."
Annacone, who was a Top-15 player once himself, also has a son but his family obligations don't prevent him from traveling with his clients. He was always with Sampras, then always with Federer, who parted ways with Annacone at the end of last year. And plans to always be with Stephens.
Annacone said from Indian Wells that he was motivated to take on Stephens for three reasons: "It was a chance for me to work with a supremely talented, if sometimes inconsistent female player. She already has a solid group of people around her. And we share a training base in [Carson, Calif.].
"For me, this is the chance to push a player knocking on the door of being elite. With Pete and Roger, they were already elite when I got them. So this is a terrific opportunity."
Last year Stephens reached at least the fourth round in all four majors. But overall, she advanced to the quarterfinals or better in just six of 19 WTA events and has never played in a final.
"I guess I like the big stages," Stephens said. "I need to learn to be more consistent."