Australian Open Tennis

Up-and-coming tennis star Sloane Stephens is often compared to Serena Williams, the No. 1 ranked tennis player in the world. Stephens, 20, has kept her lips sealed on her relationship with Williams until a recent interview with ESPN the Magazine.

In the candid Q&A, Stephens reveals tension with the Williams sisters and her honest opinion of Serena as a competitor and fellow woman of color.

Stephens defeated Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals in January and claims communication has ceased between them since the upset.

“She’s not said one word to me, not spoken to me, not said hi, not looked my way, not been in the same room with me since I played her in Australia,” Stephens said in a press interview before the U.S. Fed Cup.

“And that should tell everyone something, how she went from saying all these nice things about me to unfollowing me on Twitter.”

Williams splintered her racket, slamming it on the pavement after Stephens defeated her in Melbourne. Stephens alleges this led to an unfollow and a tweet directed toward her.

“Like, seriously! People should know,” Stephens told the magazine. “They think she’s so friendly and she’s so this and she’s so that — no, that’s not reality! You don’t unfollow someone on Twitter, delete them off of BlackBerry Messenger. I mean, what for? Why?”

Williams is a competitor, so her cool attitude toward Stephens could be perceived as a defense mechanism rather than a brewing feud between the tennis phenoms.

Serena has worked with Stephens during the 2012 Fed Cup, but she’s in no rush to mentor the burgeoning star.

“It’s hard to be a real mentor when you’re still in competition,” Williams said before her match with Stephens during the Australian Open prior. “But I’m here to compete and do the best I can, as well as she. And she’s been doing really amazing. I’m really happy [for her].”

Stephens retorts Williams’ statement, claiming she’s not seeking a mentor. She simply wants respect and approval from a woman she’s referred to as a “great influence” in previous interviews.

“For the first 16 years of my life, she said one word to me and was never involved in my tennis whatsoever,” Stephens tells ESPN the Magazine.

“I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal that she’s not involved now. If you mentor someone, that means you speak to them, that means you help them, that means you know about their life, that means you care about them. Are any of those things true at this moment? No, so therefore…”

Stephens’ conflict with Williams might also stem from an incident when she was 12. She saw the Williams sisters at a Fed Cup match and was not pleased with their attitudes toward fans.

“I waited all day [for an autograph],” she said. “They walked by three times and never signed our posters.”

This incident led to Stephens adopting Kim Clijsters as her favorite tennis player.

“I hung it up for a while. I was, like, devastated because they didn’t sign it, whatever, and then after that I was over it. I found a new player to like because I didn’t like them anymore.”

Stephens insists she has no interest in being compared to Serena, but that hasn’t stopped reporters from asking her about it.  “I’m annoyed. I’m over it,” she told ESPN the Magazine.

“I’ve always said Kim Clijsters is my favorite player, so it’s kind of weird.” She believes the media wants to compare her to Williams because they’re both African-American.

However, what separates Williams from her competitors is her desire to win and excel in tennis. Stephens has a 2-7 record since defeating Williams, leading some critics to doubt her abilities.

One interviewer at a press event asked her: “What’s happening differently with these matches? You’ve lost four out of the last seven. What’s different than what was happening at the Australian that worked so well?”

“I mean, it’s just a rough time. I don’t know,” she answered. “There’s not — there’s no specific thing that I’d say has happened or is not happening, but I don’t think it really matters.”

Stephens’ losses aren’t crushing her spirit. She realizes she still has the potential to be one of the best players in the world.

“I’m 16th in the world. I can lose in the first round for the next two months and probably still be top 30. I’m not really too concerned about winning or losing or any of that, I don’t think,” she said.

Stephens ultimate goal doesn’t diverge much from Williams. She wants to break records.

“However good I can be, I hope I go there. I obviously want to win a grand slam, but whatever I do, however long I play, I hope I sustain a really long career, a healthy one, just a pretty consistent career.”

For emphasis she repeats: “I obviously want to win a grand slam.”

  • MommieDearest

    Thanks james! So, I googled…

    Serena’s response when asked about the “beef”:

    “I’m a big Sloane Stephens fan and always have been. I’ve always said that I think she can be the best in the world. I’ll always continue to think that and always be rooting for her.

    “So I really just always wish her — and anyone, really, especially from America — the best. We don’t have that many American players, so it’s always exciting to see so many young players doing so well.”

    I soooo <3 Serena for not feeding in to the hype and shutting that nonsense down in a ladylike manner.

    Sloane's tweet:

    "Guilty of being naive. Much respect 4 @serenawilliams , a champ & the GOAT. We spoke, we're good. ONWARD! #lifelessons"

    Good for her, and I hope she really learned something from this.

    But Serena is STILL going to eat her alive when they meet on the court again. LOL!!!

  • Child, Please

    I understand the comments on here, but did Serena really have to be just as childish about it? I mean she’s an adult, competitor or not, she can be cordial without having the self-serving attitude that Kobe was criticized for when he was young and still has to this day. True, Sloane didn’t have to say what she said, but on a site where we talk about how we hate that the media pits women against each other, why are we coming down hard on a young’un by calling her “stupid” and “an idiot?” I know Serena is generally a favorite in tennis, but you have to call a spade a spade and see that Serena’s actions don’t show that she’s a competitor, but a sore loser. I hope Sloane doesn’t let it get to her too bad.

    • Ayo

      Serena hasn’t done anything wrong, though; Sloane’s talking out of both sides of her mouth. If you go back through all of her pressers, ones from before and after this interview, Sloane has nothing but nice things to say about Serena Williams, making it seem like they’re good friends, like they talk all the time, as if she’s her mentor.

      Someone at TF compiled all of the good ones:

      Sloane is a crazed, delusional fan.

    • Child, Please

      “Serena hasn’t done anything wrong, though” — Um, doing things like unfollowing someone and deleting them from Blackbery Messenger is very petty! I wish people would realize that and not tear Sloane a new one. I’m sure if we were talking about another tennis star who wasn’t a favorite, we’d say the same thing. As a matter of fact, I remember people calling the women who spoke out on LoLo Jones petty and angry for telling their genuine feelings, ignoring the fact that maybe, just maybe, LoLo could very well have been just as they described. It’s almost as if the fandom of others’ by more well known celebs has clouded their judgment to the point where they can’t see that Serena or LoLo may not live up to this “halo” persona they’ve developed for them. Serena saying “nice things” is only a part of positive press – something people wish Sloane had. I’d say if she was as genuine as her words, she shouldn’t have been petty in her ways.

  • JS

    I’m surprised at most of these comments. The whole Solane being a Serena stan was when she was 12. Was I the only one who picked that up?

    While I do think she would have loved if Serena was her mentor, it seems as like the article says the media is the one comparing Serena to Solane and mentioning them together rather than that being Solane’s doing. I agree that I don’t think Serena “owes” Solane anything, however I just don’t see that vibe of entitlement from Solane at all.
    Solane is upset because the media keeps on making comparisons and assumptions about them being friends when in fact Solane got snubbed after beating Serena. Yeah its a bit immature to be upset because someone snubbed you but its also human nature. I doubt one person here would be able to brush it off if everyone went around making comparisons and painting a certain picture of you and another person’s relationship when in fact it was the opposite.

    Honestly I do think part of the reason Serena snubbed Solane had to do with her being Black. Not because she hates her own people but because of the media comparisons. Serena and her sister are used to being the only Black women special snowflakes of tennis. Now some new girl pops up who the media keeps making comparisons to Serena, Serena felt she needed to prove herself. I think Serena walked into that match thinking her winning would separate her from that talk of Solane being the “next Serena.” When Solane beat her insecurity and sour grapes set in and she couldn’t handle it. Honestly I think that is a character flaw in Serena.

    Right now, I do Muay Thai. That is even a more competitive sport because of the physical hand to hand combat during matches. I have fought against both people I know and friends, being friends with someone should not rattle your game. In the ring is in the ring and outside of the ring is outside. What I love about Muay Thai is unlike a lot of other sports since it is martial arts it teaches you respect. All the energy you waste in trying to psych out the competition turns into negative energy which works against yourself. Besides I actually like competing against friends because I practiced with them and I know their strengths and weaknesses and they know mine, makes for a much exciting match because it comes down to pure reflexes and skills.

    I disagree with everyone saying Serena got in Solane’s head. If anything Serena cannot get Solane out of her mind and Solane clearly psyched Serena out if she has to cut off all ties to “focus.” If Serena found inner calm and confidence she wouldn’t need to be so icy to be at the top of her game. I loose matches and I win matches. You don’t see me punching holes through walls or breaking rackets like Serena. There is a fine line between being competitive and being a jerk.

    • Child, Please

      I agree with everything you said, sadly, it may fall on deaf ears.

    • Dalili


      While I don’t think Ms. Stephens is a delusional fan, I do think she came across as a bit entitled in that ESPN interview. As a die hard Serena fan, I’ll readily admit she isn’t the most gracious always (she’s come a long way), however I fail to see how some on this thread consider her a “competitive jerk” & “sore loser” based on Sloane’s statements. All because she unfollowed her on twitter and deleted her from her black berry??!! Am not big on social media etiquette, but I’d imagine someone following you is a privilege, not a right.

      Additionally I get that Sloane is weary of being compared to Serena, that’s totally understandable. But those comparisons come with the territory and she’ll have to learn how to divert them in a more genial way. Reporters are going to ask uncomfortable questions and make comparisons at the most inopportune times, it’s what they do. It seems this unfortunate interview was a great example: Sloane had just lost to Agnieszka Radwanska and had to do an interview in which the reporter asked her about Serena and the Australian Open…..and it just sorta went downhill from there.

      I don’t know much about Muay Thai. What I will say is Tennis is a mental game too, but that only serves one well when they are on the court. I doubt that either player “got in the other’s head”, that would be futile. Serena has been around long enough to know you win some and you lose some and am sure the loss to Sloane stunned her. But am hard pressed to believe she’d be so underhanded about something she’s experienced time and time again. Who knows what led her to create some distance between her and Sloane?

      Sloane seems talented enough to be around a while on the WTA tour. I hope she(and those in her camp) use this is a teachable moment. When presented with a chance for exposure, use it to your advantage. Toot your own horn even when the interviewer drudges up some sensitive issues. She failed this time, but there’ll be plenty others. As I said before I know not too many are fond of Serena, but this whole fiasco sits squarely in Sloane’s court. She is/was the author and finisher(she apologized yesterday).

      PS: Serena isn’t the only player who slams their racket when frustrated. It happens quiet a bit. :-)

    • JS

      I commented on it else where but social media etiquette does play a big role. Solane is 20 and Serena is 32, the age gap there is evident. Social media to Solane likely isn’t social media to Serena. It isn’t Serena’s fault she doesn’t understand however social media is changing the way we communicate and our relationships with people. I work in advertising and part of my job is keeping up with these trends. Unfollowing or defriending on social media now is the equivalent of saying “I don’t like you enough to even ignore you” especially because their are controls where you don’t even have to see any updates or info about them but can still remain connected. It’s kind of like the ultimate snub nowadays. For those who don’t recognize it as that because they did not grow up that way, I don’t think its their fault. Just as I don’t necessarily think its Solane’s fault for not realizing the generational gap (if in fact Serena did not mean it that way although I do personally think she did mean to snub her).

  • RaiseTheBar

    Serena is a competitor and as one it is understandable she cannot be tooooooo “friendly” with her competition.

    Once again, the MEDIA seeking to create personal rivalry where it’s “Just Business”.

  • janet

    Sloane has been talking ill of Serena to see whether she will get favour from the media,but life doesnt work that way,play your part by atleast winning a title coz i dont see her winning a gland slam with this attitude,why can she learn from down to earth Genie. If u want to be respected just respect yourself. Sloane need to put a sac in her mouth. She has not won a title yet and still comparing herself with Serena,she is aiming too high. bY THE END OF THIS YR sLOANE WILL B RANKED 100,mark my words.