Sloane Stephens finally seems to be finding her best tennis in Paris after a significant rough patch. Finding form seemingly out of nowhere is not unheard of for the American. She was regarded as one of the top young Americans when she first came on Tour, but for years did not seem to live up to expectations.
Stephens seemed like she was finally going to be a mainstay at the top of the tennis world after her 2017-18 seasons. 2017 saw her win the US Open, the first American other than the Williams sisters to win a Grand Slam event since 2003. She added a title in Miami in 2018 and strong play saw her finish year-end World #6 for her first Top 10 year-end ranking.
The last few years, her form has dropped off and she currently sits outside the Top 50. In what she calls her favorite tournament, Stephens has started off on the right foot to achieve a good result and build momentum for the rest of the year.
Rise and Fall
Sloane Stephens has always been well-liked by American tennis fans. She seemed to secure her place as the future of American women’s tennis when she beat Venus Williams on the way to the 2017 US Open title. She came into the tournament ranked 83rd in the world due to injuries, making her run even more impressive. Stephens followed it up the next season by reaching the French Open final on her favorite surface. She lost to Simona Halep after having a chance up a set and a break in the match. The difficult loss did not deter her, though. Stephens made the quarterfinal at the US Open and the final at the WTA Finals. With these results, her ranking peaked at #3 in the world. After two excellent seasons in a row, Stephens entered 2019 with massive expectations.
2019 was not a terrible year on paper for Stephens. She compiled a 24-19 record with decent results at Majors. However, as a Top 10 player, she was expected to compete for the trophy every week. In reality, she did not make a single final at any level all year. The clay court season gave her some hope. She made her lone semifinal of the season in Madrid, in addition to quarterfinals in Charleston and at the French Open.
Stephens ended the year outside the Top 20 and picked up in 2020 where she left off. After a poor start to the year, the COVID-19 break could potentially have been what she needed–to rest both physically and mentally. Her form was the same throughout the year, winning just four of the 15 matches she played. She began 2021 with a 1-4 record, raising serious concerns about her game and dropping her outside the Top 50 for the first time since 2017.
Resurgence on Clay
After the season shifted to clay, Stephens finally flashed some of the brilliance that led to her being a Top 5 player. She reached the quarterfinals in Charleston in her first tournament on clay and the semifinals in Parma, scoring a win over Daria Kasatkina–a strong clay court player–in the process. Stephens was able to bring some of that momentum to the French Open, where she faced Carla Suarez Navarro in her first match back after beating cancer. Stephens fought through a tough three set battle to face 9th seeded Karolina Pliskova. Though Pliskova is not her best on clay, she has had a good season so far on the surface, reaching the quarterfinals in Stuttgart and the final in Rome. Stephens won handily, hitting more winners than unforced errors; the American is always hard to beat when she controls her power.
Next Match: Sloane Stephens vs Karolina Muchova
Stephens earned herself a third round matchup against Karolina Muchova on Saturday, their first time playing. Muchova had never reached the third round at the French Open prior to this year, giving Stephens the edge in experience. The Czech was a surprise semifinalist at the 2021 Australian Open, showing that her game is good enough to compete at the top. Muchova played just two clay court events in preparation for Roland Garros–a first-round loss in Stuttgart and a quarterfinal in Rome. Stephens can beat Muchova if she continues to limit mistakes, especially if she can maintain the 75% first serve percentage that she has managed in her first two matches. Muchova will give Stephens a lot to handle, but she did get unlucky playing the American just as she rounds back into form.
It is hard to say that Stephens in a serious contender this year, especially considering a likely matchup with Elina Svitolina awaits if she can beat Muchova. Regardless, seeing Stephens play the way she did against Pliskova is refreshing and encouraging for her in the coming months regardless of her final result here. Sloane Stephens has already had one of the more interesting careers in tennis over the past decade, but her strong play this week gives her fans hope that she is ready to write a new chapter and fight back to the top.
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