How Sloane Stephens Has Found Renewed Success in 2016

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2016

Sloane Stephens kisses the trophy after winning the 2016 Volvo Car Open in Charleston, S.C.
Sloane Stephens kisses the trophy after winning the 2016 Volvo Car Open in Charleston, S.C.Mic Smith/Associated Press

Sloane Stephens' eyes widened and her smile broadened when she found out she'd be taking home a brand-new Volvo along with a fourth WTA Tour title.

For Stephens, 2016 has been full of surprises.

On Sunday, she defeated Elena Vesnina to capture the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, South Carolina. It was her third title this year.

After a horrendous 2015 which saw her fall from No. 11 to outside of the Top 30, Stephens appears to finally be back on track. She's now ranked No. 21 and is No. 9 in the Road to Singapore points race.

So what changed for the 23-year-old?

In January, Stephens hired Kamau Murray as coach. Prior to Murray, Stephens had gone through a who's who in superstar coaches, including Paul Annacone, Nick Saviano and Thomas Hogstedt.

Unlike her previous coaches who have worked with star players like Roger Federer (Annacone), Eugenie Bouchard (Saviano) and Maria Sharapova (Hogstedt), Murray is relatively new to big-name clients. He's a Chicago-area pro whose clientele includes inner-city kids from the South Side.

Murray takes a no-nonsense, results-oriented approach to tennis. He was quoted in Chicago as saying, “You can be a wonderful person and do wonderful things, but our country is structured so that if you don’t win, no one cares.”

Stephens appears to be responding. In her five years on the tour prior to bringing on Murray, she had won just one title. As detailed by ESPN The Magazine, she had developed a reputation for having a nonchalant, almost flaky attitude toward winning.

Now, instead of squandering leads and losing, Stephens is coming back in matches. Her once-questioned resolve is steadier. Since winning the Citi Open last year, Stephens is undefeated in finals and 4-0 in tiebreakers.

Still, Stephens has followed every title win this year with a first-round loss.

Ed McGrogan of Tennis.com wrote, "The roller-coaster ride that is Stephens’ career hasn't ended, even with her Lowcountry triumph, and it may just be beginning."

Last year, after losing in the first round of the U.S. Open, Stephens responded to a reporter who asked about her future.

"My goal is to be the best tennis player I can be. If I only ever end up beingmy career high is [No. 11] in the world, that is what it was meant to be and that's it. But I'm going to work my butt off to get further than that."

Imagine if Stephens takes this mindset into the European leg of the clay-court season.

Might she be a sleeper to win the French Open? "I mean, I couldn't ask for a better start," she said, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com). "So I'm excited to get over there and start playing."