Sloane Stephens’ fear of bugs and other things to know about her
The tennis star comes from a sports family
Sloane Stephens made the most of her first appearance at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday, beating No. 16 Anastasija Sevastova to earn her first spot in the US Open semifinals.
The US Open has served as a continuation of a meteoric rise for Stephens, who was ranked No. 934 in the WTA rankings last month. In reaching the semifinals, Stephens is projected to reach the top 35. Should she go on to win the US Open championship on Saturday — she would have to advance by beating No. 9 seed Venus Williams in Thursday’s semifinals — Stephens will be in the top 15.
Not a bad year for the 24-year-old Stephens, who missed the 2016 US Open with a broken right foot that needed surgery earlier this year.
Who is Stephens, once considered the future of American women’s tennis after beating Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Australian Open? Here are five things you should know:
STEPHENS COMES FROM GOOD ATHLETIC GENES
Her mother, Sybil Smith, looks like she could compete in professional sports today, and here’s the reason: Smith is still recognized as the best swimmer in Boston University history, and after placing sixth in the 100-yard backstroke in the 1988 NCAA championships, she became the first African-American woman to be named a first-team All-American in that sport. Smith is still BU’s only All-American swimmer and holds seven school records. After graduating in 1988, Smith was inducted into the Boston University Hall of Fame in 1993.
Her father, John Stephens, was a first-round pick of the New England Patriots in the 1988 NFL draft (17th overall) and was the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year that season after rushing for 1,168 yards. Stephens played six seasons in the NFL, but he was never the same player after leaving an opponent partially paralyzed in a 1989 head-on collision.
The couple divorced when Stephens was an infant. John Stephens died in a 2009 car accident, ending a troubled life at the age of 43.
STEPHENS AND SERENA WILLIAMS HAVE HAD A CONTEnTiOUS RELATIONSHIP
Here’s the narrative that was sold to the public after Stephens beat Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Australian: A newcomer had incredibly overcome her idol, even saying during the on-court interview afterward, “I think I’ll put up a poster of myself now.”
Here’s the reality: Stephens did have a poster of Williams on her wall when she was growing up but stopped being a fan after claiming she was stiffed for an autograph after hanging out all day at a Fed Cup tournament in Florida where the Williams sisters had played.
“They walked by three times and never signed our posters,” Stephens said during a 2013 interview with ESPN The Magazine. “I found new players to like because I didn’t like them anymore.”
An overreaction by Stephens? She claimed in the article that Williams posted a cryptic tweet — “I made you” — two days after their Australian Open match and eventually unfollowed Stephens on Twitter.
When both were asked to describe their relationship two years later when they met in the fourth round of the 2015 French Open, the responses appeared awkward.
Williams said this: “I’m, like I have always said from day one, I always root for her and [like to] see another African-American doing well. I think she’s supercute, so I always root for her.”
And the response from Stephens: “A colleague. There you go. She’s a colleague.”
Stephens joined the Williams sisters and Madison Keys in representing the United States at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. After winning her quarterfinal match Tuesday, Stephens expressed admiration for her next opponent, Venus Williams. “I think Venus is just our leader. She’s just like what everyone looks up to. I’m just honored to be able to play at the same time as her. She’s a great person, a great player and a great leader.”
SHE HAS A BIG FAN IN JOZY ALTIDORE
A soccer star with Toronto FC and a member of the U.S. men’s national team Jozy Altidore watched Stephens’ Round of 16 match from her box in Louis Armstrong Stadium. Altidore was able to attend the US Open because he was suspended for Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Honduras, which ended in a 1-1 tie.
Are Stephens and Altidore romantically linked? Neither is speaking about a relationship publicly, although the New York Daily News outraged her fans with this tweet: “Sloane Stephens, girlfriend of Jozy Altidore, advances to her first U.S. Open quarterfinal.” The comments on an Instagram post showing Stephens holding hands with an unknown man have been turned off.
STEPHENS HAS A SEVERE FEAR OF BUGS
That was evident during her news conference after Tuesday’s win in the quarterfinals, as a fly buzzing near her head forced Stephens to duck under the interview table.
“What is that thing?” Stephens asked hysterically from under the table.
“A fly,” the moderator said, calmly.
“Oh, my God, it looked like a dragon,” she said as she emerged.
Stephens eventually took off her sneaker and tried to smash the fly, with no success.
“I don’t like bugs,” she said as she continued her session. “It’s so disgusting.”
ANOTHER WIN WOULD GIVE STEPHENS THE MOST PROFITABLE YEAR OF HER CAREER
In her best year to date, Stevens earned $1.4 million in 2013, when she reached the semifinals of the Australian Open.
With a late start to her season as she recovered from injuries, Stevens has earned $310,546 in prize money this year. Her semifinal appearance is worth $875,000. The US Open runner-up receives $1.75 million, and the winner gets $3.5 million.