*When it was in stone that US Open defending champion and WTA world no. 1, Serena Williams, would meet her “mini-me,” Sloane Stephens, the buzz heard ’round the grounds of the Billie Jean King tennis center drowned out all conversations about any other match.
Besides the obvious that they are both athletic black women, it was a chance for either Sloane to prove her mettle as the next big thing in American women’s tennis or an opportunity for Serena Williams to make her reign at no. 1 more emphatic and avenge her loss to the youngster from the 2013 Australian Open. And once the final ball was struck, I’d say both possible outcomes were achieved in a way.
You don’t become world no. 1, 3-times over in your 16-year career, and win 16 Grand Slam titles along the way for nothing. So Serena dug deep into her extensive arsenal, as her achievements demonstrate that she can do, and found the weaponry and that extra gear to help her overcome the stunning first set of tennis that Sloane Stephens played.
“Going into the match, I definitely wanted to be focused the whole time,” said Serena about her strategy. “That’s all I wanted to do. Whether I was going to win or lose, I just wanted to play my game and do well. I definitely think it was a high quality match … I think we both came out to play.”
The talented youngster stuck with Serena from the ground and served as big as she has in her whole career, constantly keeping Serena on her heels. And when under pressure from Serena’s imposing return games, she calmly fought off multiple break points, forcing Serena to call upon her best tennis to finally secure one, but at the moment that really counted, a set ending 4-5. Once the set-winning break was secured by Williams, the wind that was propelling Sloane’s sails began to die down in the second and they started to sway and fold. Serena held her first service game in that next set opener – after a slight battle to do so, but then pressured Sloane yet again on her serve, making the final critical dent in her confidence. Stephens held, but that would be the last game that she did so, as she lost her way for the remainder of the match. There was a palpable shift in the American no. 2’s intensity and as is Serena Williams’ way, she won the next 5 games on the trot, closing the match out with 3 aces and a nonreturnable serve, followed by a celebratory pirouette. the final scoreline was 6-4, 6-1.
Based on the performance, Sloane Stephens is definitely next in line to take the reigns once Serena decides to call it a day, but today was was way too soon for her to make that kind of statement. The nearly partisan crowd in Sloane’s favor and the best performance she could muster up still wasn’t enough to displace the notoriously tenacious and determined Queen of American tennis … and tennis abroad, Serena Williams. Besides, the 3.6 million dollars in prize money in her cross-hairs, as well as being another Slam closer to being the named the best woman to ever pick up a tennis racquet, so she had no intentions of crumbling under the pressure of a match against Stephens.
Serena will next play Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain in the quarterfinals.
As for Sloane’s “life after,” she was undaunted and flashed that bright smile in saying, “I think I played we’ll and will see what happens for the rest of the year. I embrace it (being heir apparent to Serena) … It’s a lot of us coming up … But I’ll carry the torch.”