Stephens still adjusting to new status

  • Michael Beattie
  • Luke Hemer

Reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens is still adjusting to her new status in the sport following her stunning surge to her first Grand Slam title in New York last year.
The American 24-year-old, who returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines as she recovered from a left foot injury at Wimbledon six months ago, lifted her ranking from No.957 to No.83 ahead of the US Open, where she beat compatriot Madison Keys in the final.
“I thought winning the US Open was the hardest two weeks of my life,” said Stephens, who launches her Australian Open campaign against China’s Shuai Zhang. “I'm exhausted – but after the match, I did three and a half hours of press. I was like, ‘This sucks, what have you done?’
“Things like that have changed. There's obviously more demand. These things are mandatory now, yes? Yeah, with that, it's been a bit challenging.
“I think it's always a tough transition when you go from not playing tennis for 11 months to winning a Grand Slam,” she added. “It's never going to be anything you expected. In terms of that, it's a little bit overwhelming. I like to just stay in my own little bubble and do my own thing. I'm going to continue to do that.”

Excited to be here, happy to be back playing here. Yeah, I mean, first slam of the year. It's always good feelings.
Sloane Stephens on returning to Melbourne

Back among the seeds in Melbourne Park but without a win since the US Open, Stephens said she is looking forward to facing world No.35 Shuai, having won two of their three previous encounters: “She's my favourite player on tour – not my favourite player, but favourite person, because I love her so much. She's really a great girl. It's going to be a great match. I'm looking forward to it.”

While she played just three months of 2017, Stephens was active until November as part of the US Fed Cup team that reached last year’s final – a demanding schedule after so much time away from the sport.

“I was probably more tired than I was if I played a full season,” said the No.13 seed, who reached the semifinals here in 2013. “I think just getting to the end and getting to the end of Fed Cup, playing the last tie, that was tough. I was there, and I was like, ‘Whoa. I felt like I played three years straight with no off-season’. But like I said, I've reset now. Just look forward to the new year.

As for her first Australian Open campaign since 2016, she added: “Excited to be here, happy to be back playing here. Yeah, I mean, first slam of the year. It's always good feelings.”