Sloane Stephens is hard to read

©Mal Taam/TennisClix/CSM

Last year, it really appeared that Sloane Stephens would win another Grand Slam, plus win more huge tournaments and eventually become No. 1. But this year, she went backward, and her conviction went away.

Now she is ranked No. 14, and she does have a shot to play at the WTA Finals at the end of the year. But, that would be surprising, because over the years, she simply doesn’t love the fall. She can get tired, and she wants to go home, away from Asia and back to the United States.

Maybe Stephens will really like it in Japan and China, have fun, be comfortable, and then push herself. She has won six titles, four of them in the United States (including the 2017 US Open), one in Mexico (Acapulco) and one in Auckland, Australia.

But, in the fall, it is almost zero.

The good news is at the end of the 2018 WTA Finals, she reached the final in Singapore, beating Naomi Osaka, Kiki Bertens, Angie Kerber and Karolina Pliskova. Then, she lost against Elina Svitolina in three sets. That was pretty good on an indoor hardcourt.

Two months later in 2019, she wasn’t mentally there. For four months, Stephens lost early again and again. Maybe she was upset, or checked out or was a little bit afraid on court. When she was on, winning the 2017 U.S. Open, she was nearly perfect; she almost never missed the ball, being patient, and hitting very hard. She played strong, fast, smacking her forehand, backhand and return.

That’s why Stephens is hard to read.

She did wake up on clay for a few weeks, reaching the semis of Madrid, and the quarters of Roland Garros, beating Garbine Muguruza before losing to Jo Konta.

And that was it.

At Wimbledon, she went down against Konta again, in the third round.

Back on the hardcourts in the USA, Stephens played four events, and she won just one match. Yes, just four. At the US Open, she was stunned, losing against the young Russian player Anna Kalinskaya.

How good she will be over the next month? She has to recover, even when she isn’t stringing the ball and hitting the corners.

Stephens is a great player when she is on. But, she focuses on her off-court persona, pretending that people don’t like her. Many people do like her. That is reality, but you cannot be perfect. It is impossible. For everyone.

Hopefully, doing the fall, Stephens can re-change her game, little by little.
This week, on Wednesday, she  played in Tokyo,  at the Pan Pacific Open. But, on Wednesday in Osaka, she was crushed 6-0, 6-3 by Camila Giorgi — a blow out.  Stephens could be checking out once again.

Let’s not forget that Ash Barty is still very young, and as long as she doesn’t play all the time, she could stay No. 1 at the end of the year. In 2018, she played three events in Asia and she reached the semis at Wuhan — a big tournament — and she won a small tournament, Zhuhai. So next week in Wuhan, if she wins it, she will stay No. 1. But if she doesn’t and No. 2 Pliskova wins it, the Czech will be No. 1. That will be fun all the way to the end.

No. 1 Osaka just announced that she and her coach, Jermaine Jenkins, have parted ways. Who will be the next one? Someone who will really likes her, on court and off?

Simona Halep will reuniting with the coach/TV broadcaster Darren Cahill, after a year apart. Halep is extremely happy, given that she was up and down in 2019. Next year, Cahill will calm her down.

Will Serena Williams continue to play in Asia this fall? She hasn’t done it a lot over the past 22 years. Maybe a tournament or two in September or October? I doubt it.

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