“Like, my coach (David Nankin) came out on the court and he was like, ‘I love losing a set 6-0’ . . . I’m like, ‘Dude, shut up.’”—Sloane Stephens, in her press conference after rebounding from losing the first set at love to Olga Govortsova in the second round at Miami to win, 0-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Alright, so it’s, like, a bit of a throwaway quote. Insolent without real bite; cute in a totally awesome, high-schoolish, of-the-moment way—although there are those who would say that, when you just turned 20, like Stephens, your entire life is a prolonged adventure in “of-the-moment.”
But that only makes Stephens’ comeback yesterday more impressive, especially when you consider the struggles she’s experienced since her breakout performance at the Australian Open, where she upset Serena Williams in the quarterfinals.
I’m not sure what today’s version of the 1980s “Valley girl” is, but I’m pretty sure that whatever it is, Stephens is striving to be it. She speaks in the tribal dialect of the young, and seems to work at appearing jejune. Seming jaded. Being cool, in the original sense of the word.
Trouble is, Stephens can’t quite pull it off—not convincingly. She’s too smart, and too aware of herself and where she fits into the larger picture.
Stephens had a lot to fret about as Miami got underway, not least because she lives now in nearby Coral Gables. That makes her a hometown favorite, which always embodies pressure. And while Stephens has vaulted to a lofty No. 16 in the WTA rankings, she’s had a rough time of it in recent weeks. She’s won just one match in her three tournaments since Melbourne (that in Doha, over No. 57 Anna Tatishvili), and admitted after her win yesterday that her burgeoning fame has taken a toll. As she said of her new status in her presser:
“It’s good. I mean, it’s definitely tough, like, the way I’m living now and compared to what I was doing before. It definitely feels like every day runs into the next and there is not enough time in the day and it’s stressful. I mean, it’s tough, but I’m getting the hang of it. I mean, I think anyone would die to change places with me, so I’m just happy where I’m at.”
That bit of introspection plays against type, and it speaks well for Stephens. Unlike so many comparably privileged young ladies, she’s already got a pretty good idea of just how lucky she is. Because she’s not living in a bubble, averting the disaster foreshadowed by that 0-6 first set was a noteworthy achievement—something you expect of a seasoned, unblinking veteran. Perhaps Stephens had a pretty good sense of how another desultory loss would resonate.
Stephens appreciates the advantages that come along with the pressure created by her status. She mused:
“I was telling my mom earlier, I was like, ‘Last year I played four matches to get to the third round, and now I won one round and now I’m in the third round. It’s definitely an experience, how things change in a year. It’s obviously very crazy.”
What’s crazier still is that, by the luck of the draw, Stephens now gets a shot at the Williams sister she has yet to play, Venus. And don’t think for a moment that wins over both Williamses in the span of barely two months would go unnoticed. It would be enough to make a dude shut up.