Sloane Stephens started her 2021 US Open journey off in style. The 28-year-old tennis star returned to the scene of her 2017 US Open title against the same opponent — Madison Keys — who Sloane defeated in the Flushing finale four years ago to win her first and only Grand Slam.
Back in 2017, the world watched in anticipation as two new, Black faces emerged in a major championship final usually reserved for at least one of The Williams Sisters.
On that day, Stephens smoked Madison Keys in the final, 6–3, 6–0, to win the Women’s Singles tennis title and immediately provoked an enthusiasm that had the tennis world realizing that there was young, Black talent to take the torch from Serena and Venus once the legendary sisters put the racket down for good.
While both ladies are among the upper tier of tennis players, neither has achieved the consistent Grand Slam impact that many projected on that night in Flushing. Superstardom is not an easy destination, but both are still grinding their way to the top.
Stephens looked sharp in defeating her good friend in the opening match 6-1, 1-6, 7-6, while advancing to the second round.
Easy enough! 🤭
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 30, 2021
Keys and Stephens have known each other since they were 12 years old and have a relationship that transcends the tennis court.
“There’s probably one or two people at your job that you’d actually be friends with if you stopped working there,” Stephens told reporters. “Maddie is one of those people. She’s actually genuinely my friend.”
After her victory, Stephens spoke about that career-changing battle with Keys four years ago as well as the emergence of 17-year-old phenom CoCo Gauff, who presents a stiff challenge and will face Stephens in Round 2 on Tuesday.
US Open Elevates Careers, Raises Visibility
When we talk about Black women in tennis and breakthrough performances at the US Open in Queens, Naomi Osaka fits the bill.
The world’s No. 1 grew up near Arthur Ashe Stadium and she’s had a few of those career-changing moments while winning two of the past three US Open tournaments. These victories — on one of tennis’ grandest stages — have helped Osaka elevate her brand to the “highest-paid athlete in sports” status.
She’s still killing the game on and off the court. America and Japan’s sweetheart pic.twitter.com/j0Z1ZgfeWx
— The Shadow League (@ShadowLeague) July 13, 2021
Despite her battles with mental health and the media scrutiny over her decisions and choices, the girl who represents Japan and Haiti, is the favorite to win it again.
With all that has gone on with Osaka, maybe this is the time for Stephens to capitialize on the moment, snatch a second Grand Slam and move into exclusive company, joining Venus, Serena and Osaka as Black women who have won multiple Grand Slam titles.
It’s unlikely, because Osaka’s talents are never in question — and if she’s playing then she’s on her A Game, which makes her almost unbeatable.
Stephens Using Her Celebrity For Good
Stephens has been close, but she hasn’t ascended to the level of a consistent dominant force in the women’s game yet. She’s not quite a household name, but like Osaka, she has used her growing celebrity to improve communities and inspire young women.
Stephens, who lives in Florida has done things like rebuild the tennis courts around the city of Los Angeles. She has embraced a social responsibility to help other kids of color who may not have had the resources and connections that she did along her tennis journey.
“I was training here, and I spent a lot of time in California, ” Stephens said in an ABC Eyewitness News segment. My parents are from Fresno, California. Coming out here with the USTA, I was in Carson for a while and I realized Compton was an underserved district.”
At Centennial High School in Compton Sloane’s community activism engineered the construction of eight brand new tennis courts in 2018. Stephens is reportedly also involved with almost 20 different schools, elementary through high school.
As Stephens advances into Round 2, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to think that she could return to the scene of her greatest victory and shock the tennis world again.
She will have the energy of a live crowd to feed off for the first time since 2019. The fans in attendance are sure to be a source of motivation and inspiration for some players. Why not Stephens?