Sloane Stephens, 19, continues to show a champion’s mettle in her rise to prominence in women’s tennis. What she overcame in beating Bojana Jovanovski to advance to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open told a lot about her growth.
In defeating Jovanovski 6-1, 3-6, 7-5, Stephens overcame temperatures in the 90s, Jovaovski’s incessant grunting on every shot and the pressure that comes with playing in a Grand Slam event.
“I just had to find a way,” Stephens said. “I think mentally it was pretty tough. I was thinking, ‘Oh, my God, this is for the quarters of a Grand Slam and I’m completely just like not here right now.’ I was like, ‘I need to refocus.’ I was playing my own self, I guess you could say. But I managed to get through, so that was good.”
Here’s the even more fun-interesting-symbolic part: If Serena Williams defeats Maria Kirilenko, as expected, she and Stephens will face each other to get to the semifinal. Williams (and her sister Venus) inspired Stephens as an African-American young woman to take up the sport. Serena Williams has shared bits of wisdom with Stephens as she continues to climb the ATP rankings.
“Obviously every match is a learning experience,” Stephens said, who lost to Serena Williams, 6-4, 6-3 in their only match. “But, I mean, you’ve just got to go and treat it like another match. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, my God, I played Serena, I’m going to be so great at all these other things because she just taught me so much.’ It was just another match, regular match. Little things that you just take and move on.”
The 29th-seeded Stephens displayed veteran aplomb in her cruise-control first set against Jovanovski, but dropped a notch in energy and aggression as her opponent adjusted and began dictating the points. She dropped three service games in the second set and clearly was battling her own passivity as well as Jovanovski’s laudable groundstrokes. When Stephens cracked a volley winner in the late going — her seventh net point in as many tries — it raised the question of why she wasn’t coming in more.
“I was going cross court on all my shots,” Stephens said. “That was safe. Can’t lose with that. She was going down the line on every shot … She’s hitting it with everything she has, every muscle in her body, and hitting it unbelievably.
“I couldn’t find a rhythm, couldn’t find anything. But sometimes you just kind of got to stick it out, and hopefully she comes down off her throne.”