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Finding Roger Federer Meltdown footage on YouTube is like finding a seat on the Number 4 Lexington Avenue subway at 9:30 in the morning. [Non-New Yorkers, take note: it's rare.] The Greatest of All Time usually deals with blown shots by dragging his middle finger across his forehead and tucking his hair behind his ear. Not this time. This was a semi-final match with Novak Djokovic at the 2009 Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Florida. Djokovic just broke Fed in the third and deciding set and was up 15-0 when the Greatest of All Time took his eyes off a routine approach shot that could have evened the score. Federer went through lots of racquets when he was playing the junior circuit; wonder if he felt a little wave of nostalgia upon banging this one hard into the court.

On the Sideline

Entries in Sloane Stephens (4)

Wednesday
Jan232013

Meltdown Down Under: Serena Williams vs. Sloane Stephens

Serena Williams is the best server of the women's game, even when she's taking aim at Plexicushion instead of the ball.  Watch as she rotates her body weight into this racquet smash. There's no evidence of her second set back spasm in her Australian Open quarterfinal loss yesterday to rising queen-ager Sloane Stephens.  

The number 3 seed said she had a "wry smile" on her lips afterwards.  "It made me happy, unfortunately."  Thatta girl, Serena!  The Beatles had it all wrong.  Happiness isn't a warm gun.  It's a busted racquet.   

 

 

Tuesday
Jan222013

Australian Open: Williams Ousted by Her Mini-Me

Sloane slides into Australian Open semis, ousting Serena Williams in 3 sets. Courtesy: API had to wipe the drool coming off of my flat screen TV like dew during the all-American quarterfinal at the Australian Open between number 3 seed Serena Williams, and the 19-year-old everyone sees as her heir apparent, the 29th seed Sloane Stephens.  

"The future is here," announced ESPN's Mary Jo Fernandez, following Stephens' upset of the 15-time Grand Slam winner, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.

Serena gets medical treatment for back spasms. "It's no excuse," she told reporters after her loss. Courtesy: AP It helped Sloane's cause that Serena suffered back spasms in the second set after moving forward for a short ball. It hampered her ability to rotate into her serve and her shots. 

Another ESPN commentator, Chris Evert, kept talking about Serena "mentoring" Sloane. It made for a good story line: the mentor versus the mentee.  But Williams has denied playing any role in Stephens' recent rise, from 198th in the world at the end of 2010 to 25th today. 

"I would need a better definition of the word mentor," she said. "I just feel like the older one and maybe some of the younger players look up to me.

"It's hard to be a real mentor when you're still in competition.

"I don't feel any responsibility (towards her). I doubt she has any expectations of me to be responsible for anything. Maybe she does. I don't know."

The two have several qualities in common, besides their nationality, their race and their chosen profession.  Deadspin did a hilarious summary of the media's breathless iterations of all their similarities.  I'll keep the hyperventilating going by saying both are baseline sluggers and both have big serves.  Stephens is good enough to have given Williams a scare when they met in the quarterfinals in Brisbane earlier this month.

Watch the video at around 4:18.  Serena gets to break point for the first set against Sloane and belts out the first of several "C'mon's!" complete with flexed bicep and fist pump.  

This starts getting on Sloane's nerves.  

Which brings up a big distinction between Sloane Stephens and Serena Williams.  Here's one way the teen is NOT like the 31-year-old veteran and all-time great.  She's a fierce competitor without being fierce.

Stephens is unguarded, the very opposite of Williams.  She's not snarky, the way Williams can be, the way Williams was in 2009 when the well-endowed champ sported a T-shirt with the slogan, "Are You Looking At My Titles?" as a subtle protest against her number 2 ranking behind Slam-less Dinara Safina.   

Much has been made of Stephens' perky personality and her poise.  She Tweeted a picture of a hot dog stand at the tournament grounds in Melbourne and offered two tickets to her players' box for the first fan to order a "Sloane Sandwich."

Her reaction to her victory was subdued, just a big smile and a few claps of her hand against her racquet.  No, she did not pull apart her shirt and scream like Novak Djokovic.  She was considerate of her opponent.

"I'm sure she doesn't feel good," Stephens said to ESPN's Pam Shriver after her victory over her idol.  She went on to describe her win as "nice."  

It's more than that.  It's a big deal.  She's the first American teen in a Grand Slam semi-final since a 19-year-old Serena reached the semis at Wimbledon in 2000.  

 

 

Tuesday
Aug212012

New Haven: Bartoli Defeats Stephens, Press Corps Bummed

Marion Bartoli's service motion: works for her!"Man, this is blowing my story," one journo said from the row of desks behind me.  We were sitting in the media center at the New Haven Open, deep beneath the seats of Center Court at the Yale University tennis facility.  The TV monitor in front of us showed Marion Bartoli well on her way to trouncing Sloane Stephens in the first set, a set she'd win at 6-1. 

"You want Stephens to win?" I asked him.  

"Yeah, that's the story," he said.  Stephens, 19 years young, up and comer, 46th in the world, upsetting 27 year old Marion Bartoli of France, world number 11 and 5th seed.  It didn't look like it was going to happen.

But Stephens, sensing the restive pens of the Fourth Estate, gave us something to write about with a spectacular shut down of Bartoli's game in the second set.  She out-powered Marion at the baseline.  Marion's herky-jerky serve broke down, too.  She had 6 double faults, including two in a row that gave Stephens a 4-0 lead.  She served the Frenchwoman a bagel, fresh from New York City and the USTA training center in Queens. 6-0, Stephens.

Sloane StephensCheck out more photos of the New Haven Open here.

Bartoli's a veteran, though, and she flipped a switch and started upping her intensity.  She's got zany ways of doing that.  She does rapid-fire shadow swings while waiting to return. Before serving, she bounces on her toes, legs together and straight as a post, forward, back, forward, back, left, right, center.   Bartoli got into Stephens' head, too, screaming "Come on!!" whenever she won a point, which was more and more often.  

Bartoli had started out saying, "Allez!" but switched to English, to make sure Stephens got the message.  Bartoli was not getting bageled again.

Bartoli saved 4 out of 5 break points that Stephens had against her in the 3rd.  She clawed her way out of a 0-3 hole by clobbering Sloane's short balls for winners, and grabbed a 4-3 lead by breaking Stephens in the 7th game.  

Haters, you all know that it ain't a break until you hold your next service game.  In the see-saw rhythm that defined this match, Bartoli was flirting with being broken right back. Stephens had her at 15-40.  She got there with amazing defense, skying back a deep, hard should-have-been-a-winner shot to her forehand.  Marion, surprised that the ball was coming back, dumped her forehand into the net.

Two break points for Stephens.  "Come on, Sloane, take it to her," said the man sitting two seats away from us along the baseline.

But Marion saved one break point with a one-two combo of hard serve/blistering cross-court winner off the short return, and saved the other with an ace out wide to Sloane's backhand -- a shot she had been going for, and missing, earlier in the match.  One more big 100+ mile per hour serve to that same spot, and she was up, 5-3.  

Stephens, who's like an iceberg on the court, quiet and stone-faced between points, was now looking toward her camp, both hands up in the air, like, "What the hell can I do? She's got me flummoxed!"

It was a funky way to end it, but it was okay," said Stephens.

Bartoli broke her at 0-40.  6-3.  Game, set, match, to Experience.  Youth immediately grabs her big red racquet bag and heads off the court, brushing right past a little girl who was holding out a paper fan for an autograph.

Outta my way, kid, I got unconverted break points to grieve.

"It was crazy," Stephens said of the wild momentum swings in the match.  "I think we both played pretty well.  It was a funky way to end it, but it's okay."

Yes, losing the third and deciding set at 0-40, after you had your opponent at 15-40 the game before, is funky.  But Stephens insisted that she didn't let her level go down.  She says Bartoli was able to ramp hers up.

I asked her if Bartoli's way of ramping up, with those shadow swings and fist pumps and extra-loud "COME ONs!" got into her head.  This was their first meet-up.

Sloane's answer, in a roundabout way: "YEP."

"I haven't been on the pro circuit long enough" to get used to different players' methods, she said.  "Different girls have different ways of doing that.  It is distracting. But when you're playing, you can't let that get to you."

Stephens said some of stuff she saw Bartoli doing between points made her think, afterwards, "Did I just see her DO that?"  She didn't elaborate on what made her jaw drop. I'd guess it was the hopping around Bartoli did before Sloane served.  She even used the word "sportsmanship" somewhere in her remarks.  I couldn't write fast enough.

"Did Stephens just accuse Bartoli of being unsportsmanlike?" one reporter asked another as the press briefing ended.  We'll see, Haters, if the local papers have that as their headline tomorrow morning.  

You know how us media types are.  Always looking for the juicy story.  

Saturday
Jun022012

American Upsets Former Champ Schiavone

Viva Varvara! Lepchenko celebrates victory over 2010 French Open champ Francesca Schiavone. Courtesy FFTOf all the American story lines coming into this year's French Open  -- John Isner's early clay court promise, Serena's 18-0 record on clay -- I wouldn't have guessed that I'd be talking about newly-minted US citizen Varvara Lepchenko and 19-year-old Sloane Stephens.

Both booked their slots in the Round of 16 today, and are the last Americans standing in the singles tournament.

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