By Richard Kent, Staff Reporter
NEW YORK — Ok, how many people can name the U.S. Open women’s champion of 2017? Probably not that many. No, it wasn’t Serena Williams. Nor Venus. It was the child prodigy, American, Sloane Stephens.
The 5-foot-7 Stephens was born to a father who was a Pro Bowl running back for the New England Patriots and a mother who was an All-American swimmer at Boston University.
Pretty good genes.
At the age of 19, she made it into the top 50 in the world, after getting to the semis of the Australian Open in January, with a huge upset of Serena Williams. In 2015, she switched to Kamau Murray as her coach and that has paid dividends.
After that, she has been beset by injuries and enigmatic play. She never seemed to reach her full potential, until the summer of 2017 intervened.
Stephens had a foot operation in 2016, which kept her out of play for 11 months. She entered August 2017 with a world ranking of 957. She had virtually no chance of playing her way into the US Open.
But some strong August play intervened, getting her ranking down to no. 83 and she narrowly made the Open field. And that was fortuitous.
She played the best tennis of her career and made it to the semis where she defeated Venus Williams to set up a final meeting with he very close friend, Madison Keys. She won easily in straight sets before an adoring crowd, to earn her first Major title.
Strangely, she did not win a match for the rest of the year. And in 2018, lost in the first round of the Australian Open.
Stephens has never been known for her play on clay, but she played well in the clay prelims and made it to the French Open final, only to lose to now world No. 1, Simone Halep.
She made it to a career-high No. 3 world ranking after the French Open. Stephens has had a strong summer, especially at the Rogers Cup in Montreal and is expected to make another long run at the Open.
Who would doubt that after her 2017 win?