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.”

  • 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).

  • Foxy Fort

    The jealous party is Sloan who did not show Serena the respect a champion deserves. Instead Sloan pumped her chest declaring herself the new kid on the block. Sloan should concentrate on her tennis because one victory over Serena does not make her a champion. And didn’t Sloan say that she would take Serena’s picture down and put her picture on her wall. Any person would not continue to be friendly or speak. In fact that is exactly what I do in my normal treatment of people who diss me and do not have any impact on my life or wallet, do not acknowledge the person nor speak them or allow them into the theater of my life.

    Even Sharapova says she does not get friendly or speak to the competition. Chanda Rubin played during the Williams sister era. Did you know that when Venus defeated Serena at Wimbledon in 2007 or 08 Serena went off to herself away from her mom and family for several weeks because she does not like to lose ever and is usually harder on herself for any errors she makes. Her mom says she has to suck it up. But Serena works on improving her game all of the time and that is a point Sloan should take seriously.

    Vincent Lombardi the famous NFL coach said winning is not everything, it is the only thing.It is not Serena’s responsibility to take care of Sloane, to speak to her or otherwise if Serena believes it is necessary for competition, they are competitors.

    My observation about the Nadal versus Djokovic rivalry is that after Nadal defeated him for his US Open slam, Djokovic became Nadal’s best bud including doubles play at one point. I am not taking anything away from Djokovic’ great play, but my personal opinion is that it was bad for Nadal as a competitor. Beware of the saying, “KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSER AND YOUR ENEMIES, i.e., COMPETITORS CLOSER”

  • 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.

More in serena williams, sloane stephens