LONDON — Without a doubt, Grand Slam tournaments bring out the best in Sloane Stephens, the last American singles player still around at the All England Club.
Take a look at what she’s done this season.
After her career-best run to the Australian Open semifinals in January, and before her second-week appearances at the French Open in June and at Wimbledon – where the 17th-seeded Stephens reached the quarterfinals with a three-set victory Monday – she went through quite a rough patch: a four-month stretch in which she failed to win more than two consecutive matches at any tournament.
“It was a bad time,” Stephens said.
How did she turn it around?
“Just knowing that I am a good tennis player. I’m top-20 in the world for a reason. I didn’t, like, all of a sudden, snap my fingers and I got good,” Stephens said. “I put in a lot of work. (It) took a lot of sweat (and), like, ‘bad hair’ days, all that other stuff, to get to where I was. I realize that I just couldn’t let that go to waste. I had to get back to work.”
At Roland Garros last month, she reached the fourth round before losing to 2012 champion Maria Sharapova. At Wimbledon today, Stephens will take on 15th-seeded Marion Bartoli, the 2007 runner-up, with a chance to reach her second major semifinal of the year – and of her nascent career.
“Everyone asks, like, ‘Why do you only play well in the Slams?’ ... I mean, I don’t know,” the 20-year-old Stephens said. “It just happens.”
Playing at Wimbledon for the second time, Stephens got through the fourth round Monday by beating 19-year-old Monica Puig of Puerto Rico 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.
Stephens wrapped up her 2-hour, 4-minute victory on Court 18 shortly after defending champion Serena Williams’ 34-match winning streak ended with a 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 loss to Sabine Lisicki on Centre Court.
For the first time in 101 years, no men representing the U.S. even made it to Wimbledon’s third round, and Williams and Stephens were the only women from the country in the fourth round.
Williams was asked who she thinks will win Wimbledon now that she’s out.
“Sloane has a really good chance of winning. She has a great draw. I think she can take it,” said Williams, who lost to Stephens in the Australian Open quarterfinals. “It would be really nice to see her win.”
Young as she is, and even though she has yet to win a title on tour, Stephens already knows what it feels like to play in the latter rounds at Grand Slam tournaments. Wimbledon is her ninth major, while Puig was only in her second, and that might have made a difference Monday.
“Sloane’s been in this situation many times before, so she has a little bit more experience in this type of stage than I do,” Puig said. “That ... definitely helps her a little bit.”
Stephens’ next opponent, France’s Bartoli, is 28, owns seven career titles, and will be appearing in her sixth major quarterfinal overall. Bartoli was a 6-2, 6-3 winner against Karin Knapp of Italy 6-2, 6-3.
Bartoli lost to Williams’ sister, Venus, in the 2007 final at the All England Club. Two years before that, Stephens recalls tuning in on TV for what she called an “epic final” at Wimbledon, when Venus Williams beat Lindsay Davenport 9-7 in the third set.
“I was not good at tennis then, obviously. I was a non-factor,” said Stephens, who was 12 at the time. “So it’s crazy just thinking that I went from watching that to actually here in the quarters. It’s definitely crazy, but it’s good.”
Sloane Stephens of the United States reacts as she plays Monica Puig of Puerto Rico during their Women's singles match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, Monday, July 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)×