Keeping Score

Say Hello To Sloane Stephens, The U.S. Teen Who Beat Serena Williams

A primer on the next great hope in American tennis

  • Share
  • Read Later
Tim Wimborne / Reuters

Sloane Stephens of the U.S. serves to compatriot Serena Williams during their women's singles quarter-final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Jan. 23, 2013.

Serena Williams entered the 2013 tennis season on a tear. In 2012 she won Wimbledon, cruised at the Olympics, and took the U.S. Open. So forgive us if we thought that this could finally be a year where a tennis player pulls off a Grand Slam, winning the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open in the same year.

Steffi Graf was the last player to do it, back in 1988. She still is.

Sloane Stephens, the 19-year-old-next-great-American-tennis-hope, part 26, took down Serena at the Australian Open on Tuesday, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.  She’ll play the world no. 1, Victoria Azarenka, in the semi-finals on Thursday.

Williams got so ticked playing Stephens, she even gave her racquet a good ol’ smashing. Check it out.

(MORE: Williams Loses In Quarters, Azarenka Into Semis)

So who is Sloane Stephens? Here a few quick basics:

1. Stephens grew up in Plantation, Florida – with pictures of Serena Williams in her bedroom.

2. In 1988 her mother, Boston University swimmer Sibyl Smith, became the first African-American female to be named a Division 1 All-American in that sport. Sibyl Smith is a psychologist.

3. Her father, John Stephens, was a former running back with the New England Patriots and other teams. He died in a 2009 auto accident. Stephens was the NFL‘s offensive rookie of the year in 1988. Sybil Smith and John Stevens were divorced, and Sloane Stevens met her father in person “twice, maybe three times,” according to the New York Times. But they developed a relationship over the phone late in his life.

4. She said her Twitter following more than doubled during the match, from 17,000 before to 35,000 after. (As of Wednesday at 1:40 P.M. eastern time, she was at over 46,000 followers).

5. After the match with Williams, Stephens was giddy about her new Twitter celebrity. “John Legend tweeted me,” she said. “Dirk [Nowitzki] tweeted me. I mean, I’m just excited. I want John Legend to sing at my wedding.”

Nowitzki’s tweet.


6. After she suffered a tough loss to a lesser-ranked opponent in Madrid last spring, she and her mom met in Rome, the next stop on the tour. During a trip to the Vatican with her mother, according to espnW, Stephens did some “soul searching.” Stephens told espnW: “I told my mom, ‘This isn’t working for me.” She got a new coach – and has now beaten Serena in a grand slam.

Stephens seems gregarious and easy to pull for: a player who doesn’t take herself, or her sudden rise, too seriously. But before we anoint her the next anything, let’s remember players like Melanie Oudin, the U.S. Open sensation from 2009 who hasn’t maintained much consistency since then. It’s not easy bearing the tennis expectations of a nation, especially in an era where American fans are starving for a new generation of home-grown stars, to fill the post-Williams sisters void.

Though if she roars into an Aussie Open finals and wins a Grand Slam at 19 . . . yeah, why not just go bonkers?

(MORE: TIME’s Fearless Sports Predictions)