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Smiles and easy conversation go hand in hand for Sloane Stephens. The Floridian with the sunny disposition has qualified for her first main singles draw in a major event. As luck would have it, not only is it a Grand Slam, it is also her favourite tournament. "Americans usually don't like clay but I like it a lot. Also, here, I have to share my good moments with my worst moments and that stays with you," explains Sloane. For example, this year "it's my high school prom, which breaks my heart. I am missing so many important events, but I guess the more I miss, the better it is for my career"
Patience and confidence
Two years ago, Sloane had to deal with the death of her father who had been absent from her life until she was 13 years old, and this has made her even more sensitive to missing important family events. "I am missing my brother's baseball games, which makes me sad but that's the way it has to be," she confides.
After studying at Evert Academy, she decided to concentrate on her tennis and is now coached by former pro Roger Smith, who like her is a doubles specialist (Sloane has three wins in the juniors at Grand Slams). She is new on tour and approaches everything with excitement, like talking to the media ahead of her first round tie against Elena Baltacha. She answers questions with humour and an ease that lets one imagine that she would be just as comfortable doing stand-comedy up on a stage as she is hitting her two-handed backhand on the French clay.
Being confident does not mean that Sloane Stephens is not realistic. She is a fan of Kim Clijsters and the Williams Sisters, and the Belgian recently complimented the world no.138. Sloane simply talks about patience and hard work. "Fulfilling my potential may take time, but it will happen. There is a lot of pressure and expectation, but this is true for all the other young American players. Right now, no one really believes in us, and we know it. I also know that when I start having good results, the same people will say that they supported me from the start and they knew I could do it." She is travelling with her aunt, who she says is "my good luck charm because since she's been with me in Europe, I haven't lost."
Stephens certainly does not shy away from telling things like they really are. "I'm on a mission, but so are all of my friends because we all have to face the critics. In the US, no one believes in us and some have even questioned our work ethic. Some even say that there is no hope for professional women's tennis in the medium term..." said Stephens, firmly but without losing her trademark smile. "I'm really happy though," she continues, as well she might be after winning the 50,000 dollar tournament at Reggio Emilia on 15 May. She is reaping the rewards of a "really intensive week of work in Barcelona with Francis Roig (one of Rafael Nadal's coaches) in early May". Stephens has now entered the big leagues, but "one thing is certain, and that's that I'll be home on 4 July to celebrate the holiday with my family." In the meantime, she will have settle for going out to dinner with her aunt in Paris, with a thought for her father, as always since September 2009.