Sapakoff: 0-4 at the Family Circle Cup, but don't give up on Sloane Stephens
It's become a regularly scheduled doubleheader every time Sloane Stephens takes the court.
- Stephens vs. foe.
- A 21-year-old American wrestling with grand expectations.
We began wanting a lot after Stephens stunned Serena Williams at the 2013 Australian Open quarterfinals. She was just 19, South Florida born and raised with an NFL bloodline.
But Stephens hasn't reached another semifinal in any tournament since, and typically bows out earlier than her seed forecasts.
Wednesday, for instance. Stephens, the Family Circle Cup's No. 5 seed, lost to Elina Svitlolina.
And had to explain herself.
"If I play 10 more years of tennis, until I'm 31, that's a lot of tennis to be played," Stephens said. "I could like . I could win the next Grand Slam, or I could win one in six years and that would still be, you know, if I had pretty decent results and I was pretty consistent, I think that would still be pretty good."
She's right. Still plenty of time to struggle, mature, struggle more, gain perspective and start winning consistently. Stephens is the daughter of Sybil Smith, an All-American swimmer at Boston University, and late former NFL running back John Stephens. She has the athleticism and tennis game to succeed into her 30s.
There is no reason to expect true greatness from a player who had one enchanted fortnight in Australia.
And it wasn't such a mammoth upset Wednesday. Stephens is ranked No. 18 in the world; Svitlonia, a 19-year-old Ukrainian, is No. 35.
But that "rising American star" label is hard to live up to, even for someone who has won $2.4 million in prize money. Fans and reporters desperately seek a U.S. player able to join Serena in the top 10.
Stephens and Williams have had a chilly relationship since that Australian Open upset last year. Stephens blasted Williams in a magazine article, then claimed her comments were off-the-record. Serena unfollowed Stephens on Twitter.
Stephens brought Williams into the conversation Wednesday when asked if she's feeling pressure to step up and represent American tennis.
"No," Stephens said. "I feel like the No. 1 player in the world on the women's side is Serena Williams and she's one of the greatest players to ever play our game and she's American, and she's still playing. I don't feel any pressure.
"If the pressure is on anyone, it's on her because she's one of the greatest to ever player and I don't feel like - I mean, she's dominating. What are they looking for?"
From Stephens, Charleston fans simply seek a victory. She is 0-for-stadium court in four straight Family Circle Cup appearances.
Charity, and Cracker Barrel
In 2011, Stephens was barely known.
Wednesday and last year, she had the Daniel Island crowd behind her.
"People are still yelling like crazy things," Stephens said. "But, like I said, that's going to happen for 10 more years if I keep playing."
Stephens dealt with a volley of expectations questions Monday upon her Family Circle Cup arrival. She talked tennis goals, but also life balance. Stephens is investigating good ways to provide deprived African girls with feminine hygiene products through her foundation.
"That's the kind of thing I like to think about," Stephens said.
Asked if Charleston's reputation for fine dining made her want to check out some restaurants, Stephens smiled.
"It does," she said, "but I'd really like to go to Cracker Barrel."
A nice choice for a good meal at a fair price.
No. 18 is a solid ranking.
Eventually, young Sloane Stephens will expand her game, on the court and around Charleston.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff