Why Sloane Stephens Isn't Ready for Prime Time on or off the Court

Lindsay GibbsFeatured ColumnistAugust 1, 2013

KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 25:  Sloane Stephens plays a match against Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland during day eight of the Sony Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 25, 2013 in Key Biscayne, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

On the surface, Sloane Stephens seems tailor-made for the the spotlight. 

She's talented, she's beautiful, she's young and she seems to shine on the biggest stages of the sport.

But dig a little bit deeper, and it's clear the American has a long way to go.

Stephens has had a breakthrough year in 2013 at the Grand Slams, making it to the semifinals of the Australian Open, the quarterfinals of Wimbledon and climbing into the Top 20. But she has been unable to get any momentum going at the smaller events.

Stephens has never made it to the final of any event on the WTA tour, let alone a Grand Slam tournament. Her only career win over a Top-10 player was against a hobbled Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals earlier this year.

And as her 2-5 record (one of the wins being a walkover win over Venus Williams) in the United States this year proves, she has an even bigger issue playing well at home under the scrutiny of the American media.

Most players work their whole lives dreaming of being in her position, of having the press pay attention to their matches and big expectations on their shoulders. As Billie Jean King famously said, "Pressure is a privilege."

But Stephens doesn't seem to feel that way.

She made that clear in her press conference at the Citi Open on Monday after losing in straight sets to Olga Puchkova in the first round.

When asked about the pressure on her coming into the U.S. Open in a few weeks—she is the No. 15-ranked player in the world and the No. 2 American behind Serena Williams—Stephens rolled her eyes and gave a big sigh.

"I don't care anymore," she said flippantly. "I'm like, 'Whatever.'"

But the more she talked, the clearer it was she did care. In fact, the expectations bother her immensely.

"I mean, it's a lot of pressure," she continued. "Everyone's going to be like, 'You should do really well here because you do well at all the Slams.' I mean, if I lose first round, you guys, just don't be upset."

Stephens is young, of course, and she has time to get used to being the center of attention. And many tennis players have become successful in spite of, or sometimes because of, their bad attitudes.

But the most concerning thing about Stephens is that she doesn't seem to see a problem with her losses to the likes of Olga Puchkova.

When asked about her problem at the lower-tier events when compared to her success at Slams, Stephens quipped, "Everyone says it like it's a bad thing, but I'm like, 'Isn't that the point?'"

While the Slams are certainly the focal point, at her age, Stephens should be wanting to win titles, gain momentum and find success at every corner.

Stephens has a couple more tournaments to play before the U.S. Open, and, therefore, she has some time to get a feel for the hard courts and the ball change, which she said she struggled with at the Citi Open.

But the media attention certainly isn't going away, and she knows that.

"Getting closer it will be a lot tougher, but I mean, it's not anything I can control, like whatever people say or however people feel I should do," she told reporters. "They don't work out with me, they don't practice with me, they don't do half the things I have to do. So whatever everyone thinks is just, whatever."

"Whatever," isn't exactly an attitude fitting of a champion.

Unless her ranking takes a complete dive, the expectations she has rightly earned aren't going anywhere.

Stephens needs to learn to embrace the spotlight she seems tailor-made for before it's too late. 



Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand by the author.