Sloane Stephens says rematch with Serena Williams 'will be epic'
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Sloane Stephens' win over Jamie Hampton on Friday sets up the potential for the Clash of the Titan.
Yes, that would be the singular titan, as in Serena Williams.
As the 20-year-old Stephens' star rises, she still has a light year to go to reach Serena's supernova status. But she did her part Friday to reach a round of 16 matchup with Williams when she had an easy time with Hampton, 6-1, 6-3.
Then Williams ensured they will meet when she won a very late match Friday night over Yaroslava Shvedova, 6-3, 6-1.
After a shaky first-round win over Mandy Minella in a third-set tiebreaker, Stephens seems to have gained traction in her last two matches. She is 15-3 in Grand Slam play this season, only 17-15 in regular WTA events.
"I think she just likes the big matches," Hampton said. "She shows up to play in the slams, for sure."
Before she knew for sure that she would be playing Serena for the third time this season, Stephens said matter-of- factly: "As I always say, I think it will be epic."
Stephens beat Williams in three sets in the Australian Open quarterfinals, but it wasn't a healthy Serena. She aggravated a right ankle injured earlier in the tournament and was having back issues that restricted her ability to serve. Williams took a second-set timeout for back spasms but by the third set looked decidedly more mobile. Stephens buckled down in the third for the win, the biggest of her burgeoning career.
In the spring, Stephens took a swipe at Williams, not on the court but in an ESPN The Magazine article in which she said: "She has said not 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. And that should tell everyone something, how she went from saying all these nice things about me to unfollowing me on Twitter."
Stephens added that she had not looked at the Williams sisters as mentors or even her idols after they did not sign autographs for her as a child. She says Kim Clijsters became her role model.
Serena Williams did not fire back, instead saying at a tournament in Madrid: "I'm a big Sloane Stephens fan and always have been. I've said I think she can be the best in the world. I'll always continue to think that and always be rooting for her."
Stephens backed off later, issuing a tweet in which she called herself naive.
The two have not played each other since Australia (Williams beat her in Brisbane two weeks before the Australian), so this will be their third career meeting.
Hampton brushed aside any talk of a real rivalry between Stephens and Williams. "Less than you guys do," Hampton said of the rivalry perception. "I think Serena is the No. 1 player in the world. She's possibly the greatest player of all time. Sloane is Sloane. She's making her own name."
As for Stephens' take on the media brouhaha that followed her comments: "A lot of lessons learned. I don't regret anything and I'm happy where I am right now."
And as for her take on Serena now: "Love her. She's a great competitor, one of the best players to ever play the game. There is not much else you can say. Just praise her."
Notes & quotes: Li Na got by the woman who took her out of the Open last year, beating Laura Robson, 6-2, 7-5 . . . Third seed Agnieszka Radwanska won a tough match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-4, 7-6 (1).