Sloane Stephens shows off Slam form
PARIS -- Before we get too caught up with 18-year-old Taylor Townsend's rousing upset of Alize Cornet, let's not forget that there is another young American who is also playing very well here. In fact, Sloane Stephens is the highest-ranked American (19) left at the French Open, and she had a very long Thursday that left very little time for touring Versailles. Or providing tech advice to her coach.
Stephens began the morning by arriving at 8:30 for a second-round match against Slovenia's Polona Hercog, a fierce-looking opponent with tattoos under her left bicep, on her right forearm, her throat and the back of her neck. Stephens whipped Hercog 6-1, 6-3.
Following that, Stephens and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni lost a doubles match in the afternoon, even though Stephens hadn't planned on playing doubles here until Lucic-Baroni texted her in need of a partner this week. Thus, Stephens was still at Roland Garros and facing reporters around 6 p.m. And the 21-year-old said she still had things to do.
Yes, she does. Next up is her third-round match Saturday against No. 22-seed Ekaterina Makarova. With the first-round loss of Li Na, Stephens has a relatively favorable path, with Simona Halep (4), Petra Kvitova (5) and Jelena Jankovic (6) the highest remaining seeds in her half of the bracket.
"I mean, there's still a lot of players that are seeded high that do really well in Slams, that have a great opportunity to do well like the rest of the top-20 players,'' said Stephens, who is seeded 15th here. "I mean, there is a lot of people that could do well. I mean, it is what it is. You've just gotta go and compete.''
Stephens is one of those who does very well at the majors. She is 20-5 in her past six Slams (including this one) and has reached the quarterfinals twice and the semis once. It's the lesser tournaments where she has struggled. Over the past two seasons, she is 32-30 at WTA tournaments, including 8-11 this year. She is the highest-ranked player who has never advanced to a final in a WTA event.
Stephens says she has no explanation for the disparity -- "If I did, I would probably be doing what I do here every week'' -- but others do.
"She's clearly a big-match player, but one thing she has to improve on is that sense of urgency, focusing and being intense every single point,'' tennis legend Chris Evert said. "She realizes the importance of the Grand Slams, and for some reason, she gets that adrenaline going a little more for the big tournaments.''
At the same time, Evert said, Stephens played a smart match Thursday and didn't try too hard. "She sensed on the other side of the net that her opponent wasn't playing that great. She didn't go into that full gear and take any unnecessary risks. She just played well.''
Coach Paul Annacone is working with Stephens to improve her consistency, emphasizing the traditional athletic policy of not getting too high or too low following a result.
"The biggest thing is figuring out how to manage her average game,'' Annacone said. "Learning how to deal with the ebbs and flows of the year and not let every peak and every valley monumentally rock your stability. It's just maturation, really.''
Stephens had laughed about her coach's phone problems with international roaming charges after her first-round victory, which prompted Annacone to respond in kind with a tweet warning she would now face a tougher practice.
"I feel so bad,'' Stephens said. "You guys gave him a complex. The poor guy. Then his phone messed up, his iMessage messed up, and he didn't want to ask for help because he was getting so much grief. The poor guy. [But it was] not a tough practice. I sent him a very nice message and told him I loved him very much, so he shouldn't be upset.''