MIAMI -- Immediately after she broke through in spectacular fashion at the Australian Open, beating her idol, Serena Williams, in the quarterfinals, Sloane Stephens reached into her tennis bag and checked her phone.
There were 145 messages. Afterward the 19-year-old
Floridian said, "I hope to have a lot more Twitter followers."
Be careful what you wish for, for fame and fortune require a price -- consistently excellent results in one's chosen field.
We are happy to report that Stephens' Twitter follower count has swelled to 61,320. But as far as those bottom-line results -- perhaps, predictably -- she hasn't come close to backing up that spectacular victory in Melbourne.
Beginning with a loss in the Australian Open semifinals to then No. 1-ranked Victoria Azarenka and her most recent defeat, to Agnieszka Radwanska in the fourth round here at the Sony Open, Stephens has lost five of seven matches.
There is no shame in losing to the WTA's No. 4-ranked player, but it was the way she lost.
Stephens actually handled Radwanska in the first set 6-4, before losing 12 of the last 14 games. The last set was 6-0, and Stephens won all of two points on her serve. Radwanska has made a nice little living as an artful counterpuncher, and on this breezy Monday afternoon she defused Stephens' far heavier weapons with increasing ease. Stephens' demeanor on the court and in those final changeovers -- when her face wasn't buried in a towel, it wore a powerful scowl -- bordered on unprofessional.
Afterward, she wasn't any better.
In her brief postmatch news conference, Stephens seemed focused on a spot on the floor in front of her. Chin in hand, she answered the first three polite and positively framed questions about the match in a bored, monotone voice.
The fourth, though, got her attention: Has it been harder to follow up on that Australian Open victory than she thought?
"No," Stephens said, narrowing her eyes.
What has changed in the recent losing streak?
"I mean, just a rough time," she said. "I don't know. There's not -- there's no specific thing that I'd say has happened or is not happening, but I don't think it really matters.
"I'm [ranked No.] 16 in the world. I can lose in the first round the next two months and I probably would still be top 30. I'm not really too concerned about winning or losing or any of that, I don't think.
"My life has changed, yeah, but I wouldn't say I'm in a panic or anything."
No one said anything about panicking.
To be fair, Stephens had just lost a tough match that would have vaulted her into the quarterfinals of an important tournament. And, yes, she turned 20 just last week. But her answer about staying in the top 30 was an interesting glimpse into her mindset.
She obviously has taken the time to do the math. Maybe she should focus more on her comportment on the court and in her sessions with the media -- her window to the world of Twitter and hoards of potential followers.
A few days earlier, when she advanced to the fourth round because Venus Williams pulled out with a back injury, Stephens was summoned to a mandatory news conference. According to those in attendance, it didn't appear she wanted to be there.
"I'm really, really busy," she said of her new life. "It's definitely tougher. But, I mean, it comes with the territory. I mean, I want to be a professional tennis player, and this is what I wanted to do with my life. I want to play tennis and this is what I love to do, so I have to do all these other things, too."
When she started playing tennis at the age of 10, Stephens said, it was fun.
"Now I have, like, to come to press after practice and I have to, like, do all these other things, and media, blah, blah, blah. But, I mean, I guess that's what you kind of, like, work towards."
Blah. Blah. Blah. Stephens, clearly, is still adjusting to the grind of the professional tour.
"Obviously going week to week is a little difficult and a little bit draining, but just got to keep going. It's definitely tough staying in there, staying focused. It's a lot of effort, a lot of hard work."
That's why they call it professional tennis.