By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
Sloane Stephens reached a career-high ranking of No. 86 in the world this week after advancing to the second round of the 2012 Australian Open. Stephens soared up the rankings in 2010, ending the year in the top 100 for the first time in her career and, at 18, remains the youngest player in the top 100. She made her Grand Slam main-draw debut at the French Open in 2011, reached the quarterfinals of the Mercury Insurance Open and then advanced to the third round of the US Open, including upsetting No. 23 Shahar Peer.
The rising American star, known for her megawatt smile and effervescent personality, has solid athletic bloodlines, as her late father John Stephens was a running back in the National Football League for the New England Patriots for six years (as a first-round draft pick, making the Pro Bowl his first season) and also played for the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. Her mother, Sybil Smith, was an All-American swimmer at Boston University.
This week Stephens is part of the U.S. Fed Cup team, which is preparing to face Belarus in a World Group II tie in Worcester, Mass. She took some time to talk to USTA.com about her goals for the year, how she finished 2010, what she bought with her US Open prize money, her predictions for the Super Bowl and more.
USTA.com: You advanced to the second round of the 2012 Australian Open and played a great match against two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. How much do you feel that your game has evolved and improved?
Sloane Stephens: I think it is coming along pretty good. Not playing a lot of matches towards the end of last year, then just coming in kind of iffy at the beginning of this year was hard, but I am excited to be back playing again. I felt I played pretty well, even though I lost (the match against Kuznetsova), so that was good, and I am just happy to be playing and improving.
USTA.com: After making the third round at the US Open in just your second Grand Slam main draw and then winning your first-ever main-draw match at the Australian Open, it must be nice to have some consistent results in big tournaments. How does that help your confidence?
Sloane Stephens: It definitely helps. I had not won a match this year until the Australian Open. I was talking to my friend, Donald (Young), and I told him, “I am 0-2 this year, I need to win a match,” and he was the same. To get the first win at the Australian Open was really nice, and hopefully going forward I can get some more wins because those are always fun. I am excited. It will be a great year. Win, lose, whatever, it will be good.
USTA.com: You are the youngest player in the top 100 on the WTA Tour. Do you think about that? Or do you just think it is another step in moving up the rankings?
Sloane Stephens: Everyone always says that to me in press conferences, and I’m like, there is going to be another person after me who is going to be the youngest person in the top 100. It is just a number, and hopefully the number goes up. It doesn’t matter what the number is, as long as it keeps going up.
USTA.com: What are your goals for this year? In what areas do you want to improve?
Sloane Stephens: Ten times better, injury-free and play every tournament on the WTA schedule. No, I’m kidding. Just stay healthy, play as many tournaments as I can injury-free, and that will be big for me, if I can keep that going through the whole year.
USTA.com: Advancing to the third round of the 2011 US Open, you won the most prize money you ever had as a professional. Did you treat yourself to anything?
Sloane Stephens: No, I don’t think I bought one thing. I bought some clothes here and there. I wanted a car, but by the time I was going to get one, it was December. I thought, “Why am I going to waste my time to get a car now?” I am going to be emotionally attached (and have to leave soon) and paranoid that my mom is driving my car. Like, “What is she doing? Is she messing up the brakes? Is she speeding? Has she taken it to get washed?” Little things like that really bother me, so it was just like, “Forget it.” I would rather just keep my stress to myself. So I drive my mom’s car now when I’m home.
USTA.com: Do you have any weaknesses when it comes to shopping?
Sloane Stephens: I am a really bad online shopper. Even things I could probably walk to the store and get, I order online because it is so much easier and so convenient. I order food online, coconut water, shampoo and conditioner. Amazon is where it is at. I will order online, and when I get home from a tournament or wherever, it is there. Clothes, everything. Whoever invented the Internet was amazing.
USTA.com: Your father, John Stephens, played for the New England Patriots. Will you be rooting for them in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants on Sunday?
Sloane Stephens: The Patriots are going to beat the Giants, seriously. Let’s be real. I don’t care what anyone says. They are going to beat the Giants, end of story, and I am excited. Tom Brady is pretty awesome. I always support them because my dad played for them.
USTA.com: Do you watch a lot of football?
Sloane Stephens: In the offseason, I went to every UCLA home football game because I have a lot of friends who play for the Bruins, and it was so much fun. We did a lot of tailgating; we did everything. I am really into football now.
USTA.com: What are your other favorite sports besides tennis?
Sloane Stephens: Right now, I am solely focused on football, especially college football. That season is over now, but I was so focused on it, I need a little break.