Could we be witnessing the passing of the American tennis throne? Well, while that hyperbolic question may be a little premature, there was no doubt that tennis fans in Melbourne, Australia were introduced to a new budding American star by the name of Sloane Stephens.
According to the New York Times, what was supposed to be a learning experience against one of the greatest tennis players in history turned instead into one of the bigger surprises in tennis history as the 19-year-old Sloane Stephens announced her arrival to a global audience by rallying to defeat her 31-year-old American elder, Serena Williams, on Wednesday, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
Serena, who has been battling a string of injuries (none of which was serious enough to keep her from competing at a high level), looked to be comfortably on her way to a rematch versus the number 1 seed Victoria Azarenka, who easily cruised to in quarterfinal match win against Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5, 6-1, when Stephens went to another gear, frustrating Serena so bad that the 4-time Aussie Open champ slammed and smashed her racket on the hardcourt surface.
Instead, Azarenka will face the 29th ranked Stephens, who said that among her many American tennis idols, Serena was the one superstar who she has modeled her now budding career after and had a poster of Serena in her childhood room.
“This is so crazy, but oh my goodness,” Stephens said, wiping away tears in her post-match interview. “I think I’ll put a poster of myself now.”
Stephens, who is the daughter of former NFL running back and now deceased John Stephens, said she felt good about her prospects of beating the 15-time grand slam champion despite losing her only other professional match to Serena last month in straight sets:
“Last night I was thinking about it,” she said. “And someone asked me, ‘Do you think you can win?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ But I wasn’t too clear about it, and this morning when I got up I was like, ‘Dude, you can do this. Go out and play and do your best.”’
Well, now that Venus Williams is firmly in the twilight of her illustrious career, it looks like we might have an American tennis rivalry that, if Stephens can hold her form she showed early today, will capture young African-American girls imagination the way the Williams sister rivalry did for young Sloane.