Sloane Stephens is not sure if there’s a “secret sauce” but she is hoping to reignite her game with a long production line of female American tennis players currently taking the game by storm.
Former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin leads the production line with Jennifer Brady, Madison Keys, Alison Riske, Amanda Anisimova, Jessica Pegula, Coco Gauff, and Danielle Collins all vying for major titles.
And then there’s 39-year-old Serena Williams who is still searching for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam and showing no signs of retiring anytime soon.
Stephens, who won the US Open in 2017 before claiming the premier Miami Open crown a year later, admittedly did not have the best of years in 2019, while last year proved a non-event as with so many of her fellow professionals due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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“We’ve (USA) been strong for quite some time now and I think it’s really nice, even through everything that has been going on with the pandemic, that we’ve been able to maintain and we’ve had some really good girls break out in the last two or three years which is amazing,” Stephens told Sky Sports.
“We have a strong Billie Jean Cup team which is also amazing and it’s great to see all of the girls that are playing now all kind of grew up playing junior tennis together so to see each other week in and week out is really not that bad.
“Every player is a little bit different, every player has taken their own path like Jennifer Brady, Madison Keys, and myself, we’ve all done different things so I don’t know if there’s a secret sauce but the magic is in the player I guess.”
Many young up-and-coming stars are now opting to take the college route Stateside, including British players’ Cameron Norrie and Paul Jubb.
But the 28-year-old, who resides in Fort Lauderdale, is a firm believer in the saying, “each to their own”.
“There are a lot of players in the States who have gone to school and had great careers but I don’t know if it’s a way forward. For some people, absolutely, but it just depends on the person,” she said.
Stephens, who is engaged to her future husband, former Hull and Sunderland striker Jozy Altidore, spoke about spending lockdown together.
She also felt for the tennis community with many players unable to travel and earn a living for long periods of 2020.
“It was definitely difficult, but difficult for everyone and not just me,” Stephens said. “Obviously everyone was in the same boat but I think getting back to tennis now and trying to normalise the schedule and the season has been good for everyone.
“The schedule we’ve had has been the same schedule that we’ve had for years so I think it’s nice that we’re kind of getting back to that but things are still very unpredictable with the pandemic still going on but, like I said, everyone’s in the same boat so we’re all going through the same thing.”
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Miami is Stephens home tournament and it brings back happy memories for the American, who has suffered a dip in form having dropped down to world No 49 having peaking at No 3 in 2018.
She is now back with coach Kamau Murray having worked together during the most successful period of her career and a solid run at the tournament would be a good fillip for the rest of the season.
“Yeah, this is definitely like a home tournament for me,” she said. “I’m super-close to home and all friends and family are here so it’s just nice to be close by, but obviously maybe not that many home fans in the stands this year but it’s nice to have that support regardless.
“We would love to have fans back, but in the safest way possible. Having fans makes a huge difference as it brings life to the game and makes things more exciting because travelling with only tennis players the mood is a little down without the fans but it will be nice to have them back.”
Stephens also spoke about extending the charitable efforts around her Sloane Stephens Foundation (SSF) – a program that works with underserved youth in the greater Miami area.
Having grown up and discovered her love of tennis in South Florida, she founded SSF to provide opportunities to underserved youth in Miami, and just recently announced a partnership with SAP, which will further support the foundation by formalising a high-performance tennis program.
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