It looks like the new reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens has outshone the NFL’s weekend of season-opening football by gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated. On Tuesday, the magazine revealed that Stephens will be the featured in the Sept. 18 issue for her marvelous comeback into the WTA’s top 20.
The unseeded Stephens was an underdog heading into the 2017 US Open after making a slow and painful recovery from a foot surgery she underwent earlier this year. She only just returned to competition in July, having dropped out of Wimbledon and the Citi Open in the first round. Though she showed some promise by making the semifinals at the Rogers Cup and Western & Southern Open, few thought that Stephens would be a contender for the American Grand Slam final.
But Sloane shocked the world (and herself) when she beat Madison Keys for the title. This week’s issue of Sports Illustrated features an article chronicling Stephens’ return and how she rediscovered her love for tennis. Here are four interesting facts we learned about the 24-year-old after reading S.L. Price’s in-depth piece:
1. The Stephens/Keys showdown is proof of a new tennis generation
Tennis is slowly losing it’s “white, preppy” image. Three out of four of the American semifinalists this year were African American (Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys). The showdown between Stephens and Keys was significant because it was the first final between two black players that were not the Williams sisters. Stephens’ coach Kamau Murray has an academy in Chicago that has 70% black enrollment. It’s apparent that a new diverse tennis generation has emerged not only on the pro tour but with the youth as well.
2. Stephens lost her father at the US Open in 2009
When 16-year-old Stephens was preparing for the US Open juniors tournament in 2009, her sister told her the horrific news that their father had died in a car accident. Devastated, Stephens went to the funeral and flew back to the tournament the next day. She lost in the second round then went home.
“I’ve had so many great moments here, and so many sad moments here, that winning, here, makes it even more special,” Stephens told SI.
3. Athleticism runs in Stephens’ family
Sybil Smith, her mother, was the first black swimmer in NCAA history to be named to a first-team All-America in 1988. That same year, Stephens’ father John was drafted as a first-round pick by the New England Patriots as a running back. Sybil and John divorced when Stephens was a baby and she didn’t meet her father until she was 13.
4. Keys and Stephens supported each other through their injuries
Madison Keys also has a valiant comeback story ahead of the US Open after she recovered from two wrist surgeries since last November. Keys made sure to text and FaceTime Stephens to make sure her friend still had her head in the game. Stephens would message back and do the same. When Stephens won the final battle, the two exchanged a heartfelt hug. Keys joked that her consolation prize would be for Stephens to buy her drinks at the celebration party.
[More from Excelle Sports: Sloane Stephens continues to barrel through WTA rankings]
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