The Australian Open is finished for the women, with Victoria Azarenka winning her second straight title against Ni La. But the biggest story out of the tournament, at least for the United States, is the emergence of Sloane Stephens, who is quite possibly the next star for American tennis.
Who is Sloane Stephens? She is a 19-year-old girl from Plantation, FL and the daughter of John Stephens and Sybil Smith. John played six seasons in the NFL with the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, and Kansas City Chiefs. He was killed in a car accident on September 1, 2009. Sybil attended Boston University and in 1988 was the first African-American female to be named First Team All-American in Division I history.
Stephens has been playing tennis since she was 9. Her breakthrough happened in 2008 when she finished the US Open Junior doubles as a runner-up and she only kept improving. In 2011, she was ranked 97 and the youngest player to be in the top 100. She reached the second round of the 2012 Australian Open, the fourth round of the 2012 French Open, and third round of 2012 Wimbledon.
She shined in the 2012 US Open. In the first round she upset 22nd seed Francesca Schiavone and went to defeat Tatjana Malek. She almost beat 12th seed Ana Ivanovic in the third round before Ivanovic came back to win.
Stephens entered the 2013 Australian Open as the 29th seed and advanced to her first quarterfinals where she played against her idol Serena Williams. She defeated Williams in three sets and became the only American younger than Williams to ever beat her. She lost in the semi-finals to Victoria Azarenka, but now she is ranked #17 and is the youngest player–and only teenager–in the top 20.
Her defeat of Williams may appear familiar to tennis fans. It is important to remember Stephens is two months shy of her 20th birthday. A young man, a month shy of his 20th birthday, defeated favorite Pete Sampras in the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2001. That young man was Roger Federer.
Federer defeating Sampras was the beginning of the end of the reign of Sampras and Andre Agassi. It was the changing of the guard, the beginning of a new time for younger and fresher players. Is Stephens’ defeat of Williams going to do the same thing for women’s tennis? Is it the first sign that it is time for younger players to take over and dethrone the top seeds?
Sloane Stephens is very special player and will be a force to be reckoned with to the top seeds. But she must not be rushed and tennis and the fans must allow her to keep improving.
At the same time, it should not come to a surprise to anyone if we see Sloane Stephens with a “1” next to her name in a few years. She will be the face of not only American women’s tennis, but women’s tennis worldwide