American tennis starlet Sloane Stephens was unceremoniously bounced from the 2014 U.S. Open early Wednesday by 96th-ranked Johanna Larsson of Sweden. Surely this wasn't the way Stephens anticipated the tournament going, as she was defeated in large part by 63 unforced errors.
However, not all is lost.
Although this was a less-than-ideal turn of events, Stephens' future is still incredibly bright.
The 21-year-old is ranked as the No. 24 player in the world, according to the WTA Rankings. Save for Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, Stephens is the youngest player within the top 25. Based on the rankings, she's also regarded as the third-best American player (behind both Serena and Venus Williams).
In terms of a physical skill set, Stephens is quite impressive. Not only does she possess wonderful athleticism on the court, she also has a power serve reaching upward of 115 miles per hour (h/t Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News).
Her record in Grand Slam events is very good for such a young athlete. Up until this past June at Wimbledon, Stephens had advanced to the round of 16 in six straight Grand Slam events.
Perhaps the highlight of her young career was when she defeated Serena Williams en route to reaching the semifinals of the 2013 Australian Open. Her win-loss record in Grand Slam Tournaments is a solid 32-14.
Stephens has been criticized in the recent months for her lack of consistency. A 20-18 overall record in 2014 is puzzling to an extent—especially with a player of Stephen's ability.
As told to Chris Oddo of Tennis Now, legend Chris Evert in particular has questioned Stephens' effort after Wednesday's loss:
"I'm disappointed. The hunger's not there. I almost see a hesitancy...she's afraid to commit emotionally. I just think she doesn't want to feel hurt by it if she loses. If she gives 100-percent and loses—I think she has a fear of that."
It would be one thing for a young player not to recognize a potential rough patch in play. Stephens appears to have a firm grasp on her future and is both determined and introspective in her hopes for the future.
As she told Wayne Coffey of the New York Daily News, "I'm not going to dwell on this. I'm just going to keep improving and getting better and looking forward to the next tournaments...Everyone goes through times like this. I'm sure [the media] will be here every tournament to see me get through it."
It's a very mature take for someone younger than the vast majority of her peers. Stephens has been thrust onto the world's stage at only 21 years of age. As she gets older, one would expect her to not only mature, but also improve in consistency.
The ability is there for Stephens to truly become one of the greats in the sport.