Sloane Stephens enters the big time with win over Serena Williams

It was said with a beaming smile, but Stephens was right about one thing. She is unlikely to be back there any time soon.

“The Williams sisters came up when they were 16, 17 years old. Now it’s Stephens. She was bold, fearless. It’s a hurtful loss for Serena, but a big day for tennis”

Robson, also 19, had already made her Grand Slam breakthrough by reaching the fourth round of the US Open last year, picking off Kim Clijsters and Li Na along the way.

But while that run made headlines in the UK and wider tennis scene, Stephens blasted her way on to back pages the world over on Wednesday when she claimed the biggest scalp in tennis – Serena Williams.

Stephens immediately hurried over to check the messages on her phone, saying afterwards: “I couldn’t really do anything because the messages were coming in, so I couldn’t read anything. I was like, ‘Wait, this is pointless. So I just put it down.'”

Meanwhile, the likes of NBA stars Shaquille O’Neal and Dirk Nowitzki, and singer John Legend, got in touch via Twitter. Star power.

The win itself broke a run of 20 straight victories for Williams stretching back to August, and ended her hopes of a second ‘Serena Slam’ after winning Wimbledon and the US Open in 2012, as well as the Olympics.

There were few who believed anyone could beat her in Melbourne, and if there was to be an upset it would surely come from world number one Victoria Azarenka or serial slam winner Maria Sharapova.

In the event, 29th seed Stephens remained calm and consistent enough to put Williams away, while the 15-time Grand Slam champion was enduring racquet-smashing frustration as her body let her down.

The 31-year-old faded in the presence of a youngster she has struck up a strong relationship with since they first met four years ago.

“I saw her in the locker room,” Williams said earlier in the tournament when recalling their first meeting. “She was another black girl. I was like, ‘Hey!’ That’s when I first noticed her. ‘What up, girl?'”

Asked to describe her relationship with Williams, the teenager said: “Normal. We just talk whenever we see each other. Yesterday she told me I was too quiet on the court. Then today I was thinking to myself, ‘I’m really loud. Should I tone it down a little bit?’

“But, I mean, no, just normal. Just friendly stuff.”

Stephens happily brushed off shouts of “Hey! Serena!” during her early matches and practice sessions in Melbourne from spectators unaware that there are more than two African-American women in tennis.

That is an issue Williams has dealt with since turning professional in 1995, but she baulked at the suggestion she was a mentor for Stephens, saying presciently: “It’s hard to be a real mentor when you’re still in competition.”

Re-printed from BBCSports.com

 


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