The look of shock on Sloane Stephens’ face when the electric blue Volvo V60 Polestar rolled on court Sunday at Volvo Car Stadium was priceless.
“You guys, I just got a car!” Stephens told the cheering crowd.
Good things come to those who win professional tennis tournaments, as the 23-year-old Stephens is starting to learn. The young American, long viewed as a promising successor to Serena and Venus Williams, is fulfilling that potential this year.
Stephens, ranked No. 25, won for the third time in 2016 and fourth time in her career on Sunday, taking out qualifier Elena Vesnina in the final of the Volvo Car Open on Daniel Island, 7-6 (4), 6-2. The No. 7 seed, Stephens cashed the winner’s check of $128,100 and got a surprise bonus — a new car!
“Did you all know I was going to get a car?” Stephens asked reporters in the press room after her win. “Me neither. That was crazy.”
The pressure on young American stars such as Stephens can sometimes seem crazy. She was ranked as high as No. 11 in 2013, the same year she made the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. But that remains her best performance in a Grand Slam, and she did not win a WTA title until last year in Washington.
This year, before tax day, she’s won more than $290,000 and tournaments in Auckland, Acapulco and now Charleston, where she had been 1-5 in five previous main-draw appearances.
After celebrating her title Sunday by running through a gauntlet of high-fiving ballkids and posing on the hood of her new Volvo, Stephens was not interested in pondering her place in the game.
“I mean, obviously I don’t think of it that way,” she said. “I just think, I’m playing tennis. I’m enjoying myself. I’m having fun. I mean I’m happy to be winning tournaments, and that’s all I can really think about, just trying to get better and every week try and go for another title.”
Vesnina, a 29-year-old Russian who had to win two qualifying matches just to get in the main draw, gave Stephens everything she could handle in a tense first set on a cool Sunday afternoon on Daniel Island.
Stephens powered out to a 5-2 lead over the 85th-ranked Vesnina, who was ranked as high as No. 21 before a shoulder injury at the 2014 U.S. Open. But Vesnina battled back, winning four straight games to serve for the set at 6-5.
Vesnina had a set point that she squandered on a backhand into the net. On Stephens’ fourth break point of the game, Vesnina’s slice forehand hit the top of the netcord, bounced high in the air and fell back on Vesnina’s side of the court. The crowd let loose a huge roar, and Stephens had forced a tiebreak at 6-6.
At 3-3 in the tiebreak, Stephens belted a forehand winner and went on to win the tiebreak, 7-4.
“I just thought to myself, I needed to be more aggressive and take my opportunities,” Stephens said. “I was playing really passive. And I had a bit of T. Rex arm syndrome, so I needed to just hit through the ball.”
Vesnina, playing her 10th match of the week (including doubles) seemed to hit the wall in the second set.
“Sloane was playing really solid,” said Vesnina, who also was runner-up here in 2011. “She was like a little bit better, one step faster, one step better. I mean she’s one of the best players on the defense, so when she’s sliding and getting all those balls, at some point I was just thinking, you know, she’s everywhere.”
In fact, Vesnina thinks Stephens is bound for bigger and better things.
“I felt that I lost to a player who can be back in top 10 this year,” Vesnina said. “I really think like that because Sloane, she has the potential for that.”