Sky's the Limit for Sloane Stephens Despite Disappointing Wimbledon Ouster

Lindsay GibbsFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2013

For the second Grand Slam this year, Sloane Stephens was the last American standing. 

It won't be the last time.

By making it to her third straight second week of a major, the 20-year-old Stephens has proven that she is indeed the real deal. It's okay to get excited. 

Unfortunately, that doesn't make her quarterfinal loss any less disappointing.

With a Wimbledon draw shockingly wide open and a hat tip from Serena Williams, many expected (or hoped) Stephens to make a run to her first Grand Slam final. Not so fast.

Not much went right for Stephens on Tuesday against Marion Bartoli in their Wimbledon quarterfinal. She lost in straight sets, though with the rain delays, breaks of serve and crowd involvement, it was anything but a straight-forward match. 

In fact, not much has been straight forward in 2013 for Stephens. She started the year in style, making it to the Australian Open semifinals, upsetting an injured Serena along the way. She was on top of the world, America's Sweetheart. 

Then things got rough, as they often do after such a breakthrough. She struggled to win a match all spring. She dealt with injury. She got in the middle of a self-created public media controversy with Serena. 

She's learning the hard way that it is not a straight shot to the top. There are bumps along the way, no matter how high you fly. It's a lesson she's going to need to take to heart, because Stephens seems destined to soar.

The tennis season is such a week-in and week-out grind that it feels like Stephens is already a steeled veteran. It's easy to get caught up in the potential and expectations and forget that she is only 20 years old and that this is only her second full season on the WTA tour.

Two years ago she couldn't even get into the Wimbledon main draw. Now she's disappointed after a loss in the quarterfinals. It's been quite a ride.

The lists of positives about Stephens are seemingly endless. She has a natural athletic ability that keeps her in every match she plays, no matter the opponent. She has a calmness about her that allows her to keep steady throughout all of the ups and downs. Though she lacks an obvious weapon, there is no glaring weakness to her game. She's solid through and through.

There's a lot to like about her personality, too. She is very open with the media, sometimes to a fault. She's bubbly but not ditzy. She's outspoken but not harsh. She's open but mysterious. And it certainly doesn't hurt that she shines in front of the camera.

However, her best attribute is her ability to dig herself out of trouble, both in matches and in her career. When asked during a Wimbledon press conference on Monday how she managed to turn her year back around after her post-Australian Open struggles, Stephens answered:

I think just believing in myself.  I mean, it was a bad time.  I think just knowing that I am a good tennis player.  I'm top 20 in the world for a reason.  I didn't like all of a sudden snap my fingers and I got good.

I put in a lot of work, took a lot of sweat, like bad hair days, all that other stuff, to get to where I was.  I realize that I just couldn't let that go to waste.  I had to get back to work and just, you know, start working again.

She believes in herself. She knows she belongs. She is willing to work harder. With an attitude like that, it's easy to see why she's successful. And this is only the beginning.

Stephens is not there yet, and that's okay. In fact, she's still very much trying to figure out where "there" is. She wasn't born with a racket in her hand. Nobody told her she had to become the best player in the world. It wasn't her destiny to be a tennis player, and she's said as much.  

Stephens plays tennis because she's good at it. She competes because she wants to. She wins because she can.

She's trying to figure out exactly how good she can be right in front of our very eyes. 

The truth is, she can be great. She might not be a legend like Serena, but she will contend for Grand Slam titles. She wasn't that far off in her Wimbledon quarterfinal match against Bartoli. 

With a little more maturity, she doesn't come back on court from the rain delay so rattled. With a little second serve improvement she doesn't give away the second set. Her footwork, forehand and speed are already top notch. 

Tuesday was not a good day for Stephens, but her future is still blindingly bright.