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U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens to play exhibition at Coliseum

Sloane Stephens celebrates after defeating Madison Keys in

Sloane Stephens celebrates after defeating Madison Keys in the U.S. Open final at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows on Sept. 9 2017. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

It’s a men’s tennis tournament, but a star player on the opening night of the New York Open will be Sloane Stephens, the newly minted U.S. Open champion.

Stephens will play friend and occasional doubles partner Eugenie Bouchard in an exhibition match Feb. 11 at Nassau Coliseum. That match follows an exhibition between John McEnroe, the tournament’s ambassador, and James Blake, then that foursome will play a mixed doubles. The New York Open is the first men’s tour event on Long Island since the old Hamlet Cup was discontinued after the 2004 season.

Stephens’ U.S. Open victory came from out of nowhere and surprised her as much as anyone else. After a foot injury in August of 2016 that led to surgery in January, followed by 16 weeks on crutches, Stephens found herself 957th in the world rankings just weeks before the Open.

But with precision, persistence and performance, Stephens took apart one of her best friends, Madison Keys, 6-3, 6-0, in the Open final for her first Grand Slam victory.

“I think it’s cool. I like new stuff,” said Stephens about being able to kick off the new tournament during a conference call Tuesday. “I’m super excited to see the new Coliseum.”

“Sloane was the first person to commit to do this,” said tournament director Josh Ripple. “It’s really important for us to do this, having some WTA players along with the men.”

As for life as U.S. Open champion, Stephens says she’s not seeking the spotlight. “Life has been good, but I haven’t really done anything or wanted to do anything I haven’t been able to do,”she said.. “I don’t like to do a whole lot anyway, so I keep it low-key and under the radar and try to live my normal life because that’s what works best for me. Just be very simple.”

The field was given a boost on Tuesday when Americans Sam Querrey and Ryan Harrison committed to play, officials announced. They join John Isner, Kei Nishikori and Long Islander Noah Rubin in the 28-player field. This will be the first men’s event in the U.S. for 2018.

Querrey is the second highest ranked American player at 13th, coming off his best Grand Slam season, where he reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open. Querrey holds 10 career titles and won this year’s Abierto Mexicano Telcel ATP 500 tournament in February, beating world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the final.

Harrison won this year’s final Memphis Open, beating Querrey along the way. Querrey won it in 2010. Harrison, with partner Michael Venus, won the French Open doubles championship this season.

“I’ve been to New York 40 times, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to Long Island,” said Querrey, who likely will end up as the tournament’s No. 1 seed. “It’s fun to go to a new tournament and see what it’s like.”

But the event does have a practical component for him. “I’m someone who likes to play a lot of hardcourt events,” said Querrey, who will be coming off the Australian Open. “I like to load up my calendar. I always liked playing the Memphis tournament, so it should be fun to be playing on Long Island now that’s it’s moved here and have a second tournament in New York. I’m hoping the fans come out and support the event.”

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