Sloane Stephens’ performance at the U.S. Open made the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings look like alternative facts. With a 957 ranking at the end of July, Stephens carried on skillfully to win the U.S. Open. Stephens’ ranking ascended at an exponential rate prior to the tournament’s start in late August, climbing out of the 900s to the 100s in a span of a week.
By the start of the New York-based tournament, Stephens was 84th in the WTA. In the first round, Stephens knocked out Roberta Vinci in two sets (7-5 6-1), then eliminated the 10th ranked Dominika Cibulkova (6-2 5-7 6-3) in the second round.
In the semifinal, Stephens debacled tennis icon Venus Williams in three sets, Williams boasted a nine in ranking.
After besting 16th ranked Madison Keys (6-3 6-0) to capture the Grand Slam title in two sets, the 24-year-old Stephens is currently ranked 17th. Stephens earned her fifth WTA Singles title in her career.
Her progression made national headlines and permeated through social media when she defeated Anastasija Sevastova (6-3 3-6 7-6(4)) to become one of three Black women and one of four Americans in the U.S. Open Semifinals.
With great triumph came trials. The Plantation, Florida native had surgery on her foot in January, but found ways to practice while she was in recovery during the spring. Stephens returned to the WTA tour in time for Wimbledon, but lost in the first round. However, Stephens bounced back, reaching the semifinals for the Rogers Cup in Toronto and the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati.
This year, Stephens clinched 25 service aces; she won 73.3 percent of her service games and 59.9 percent of her service points. With returns, Stephens had 50.3 percent of break points converted and won 55.2 percent of her second return points.
Stephens is the product of noteworthy athletes. Her mother, Sybil Smith, was the first African American to become a Division I All-American swimmer during her time at Boston University. Smith encouraged Stephens to play tennis.
“I don’t think parents get enough credit,” Stephens said. “When I was 11-years-old, my mom took me to a tennis academy and one of the directors there told my mom that I’d be lucky if I was a division II player and I got a scholarship.”
Stephen’s father, John Stephens was a running back for Northwestern State and become NFL offensive rookie of the year in 1988. John passed away in a car accident in 2009.
Stephens began her career in 2007 in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) circuit in Brazil and reached the Top 100 in 2011. Her first top 40 season came in 2012, where she reached the semifinals for both Washington, D.C. and Strasbourg.
In 2013, Stephens attained the semifinals for both Wimbledon and the Australian Open.