Sloane Stephens' hopes of winning the 2013 U.S. Open came to an end in Round 4 against Serena Williams, falling to the fellow American 6-4, 6-1 at Flushing Meadows.
The rising American star could have made a gigantic breakthrough by capturing the season's final major in New York. As it turned out, she's not quite ready for that type of result, but it was still a Grand Slam season with more positives than negatives.
Signs of progress were apparent starting in the Australian Open. Not only did she defeat Williams en route to the semifinals, but the 20-year-old power player started to display the type of game necessary to become a top player in the sport.
She went on to reach the fourth round of the French Open and the quarterfinals of Wimbledon—both of which are very solid results given her age and experience level, especially in marquee events.
So expectations were on the rise heading into the last Grand Slam event of the season. Although Williams is still the dominant force on the women's side, Stephens has a realistic opportunity to fill that void in the future.
Just not yet.
As has been the case throughout the season, every couple steps toward the top 10 she takes, there's a reminder that plenty of other talented players are standing in her way. It's all part of the development process for a young player.
Coming up short at the U.S. Open is the latest stop on that journey. The most important thing for Stephens is finding a way to bounce back so she can finish the season strong.
Although the remaining events don't garner nearly as much attention as the four majors, they are still critical for the players, especially those like Stephens hoping to climb the rankings. Mostly hard-court events remain leading up to the WTA Championships in October.
Between now and then, it's all about continuing the progress she's shown throughout the season. The more deep runs she can make and matchups with players she can experience, the better her chances of making an even bigger impact in 2014.
She has the natural power necessary to do exactly that. Discovering ways to win matches against the likes of Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova without having to play perfect tennis will help her reach that next level.
Given her rapid rise, it's often easy to forget she's still in the early stages of her career. Stephens has to stay within herself despite the expectations and keep making steady progress.
If she does, there's plenty of U.S. Open success in her future.