Keeping Score

American Upstart: Sloane Stephens on Serena Williams, French Open

A profile of America's next great tennis hopeful.

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U.S. tennis player Sloane Stephens returns the ball to Russian Maria Sharapova during their match at the WTA Rome Open tennis tournament in the Foro Italico in Rome, on May 16, 2013.

This week’s issue of TIME magazine, out on newsstands Friday and free online for subscribers, features a profile of Sloane Stephens, the 20-year-old American who burst onto the U.S. sports scene after beating Serena Williams at the Australian Open. Though some media reports said Williams and Stephens had a mentor-mentee type of relationship, that’s far from the truth. “We’re not besties,” Stephens says with a laugh during a talk with TIME in late February. “I would never message her, ‘Oh, let’s go to dinner,’ anything like that.” A few weeks before the Australian, Williams and Stephens played a match in Brisbane, which Williams won in straight sets. Williams’ grunting and fist-pumping bothered Stephens. “That’s insane,” Stephens says. “Just intimidation. That’s just what happened. That’s what she does. She scares people.” At the press conference after Stephens dumped Williams out of the Oz, Williams referred to Stephens as “my opponent” and called her a “good player” but took no pains to praise her. Stephens calls such tactics mind games. “I would never do that to anyone,” she says. “So I don’t understand how some people do the things they do. That’s life. What can you do? You can’t change that. She is who she is, so you just move on.”

Stephens has struggled since the Australian Open; she knows she must improve her ability to concentrate.  “Always staying focused is something that’s been very tough for me,” she says later. “I’m still working on it.” She’s confident she’ll get her game back at the French Open, which starts on Sunday. “I’ve had a rough patch,” Stephens says. “But I’m over it. I think once I start to have a little more fun, things will come a lot easier. I’m excited to take the next step and do my thing. Again.”

To read this story and all other TIME content, an all-access subscription can be purchased here.