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Sloane Stephens, defending U.S. Open champion, has her eyes on No. 1

Sloane Stephens meets with the press during Media

Sloane Stephens meets with the press during Media Day in Armstrong Stadium on Friday, Aug. 24, 2018 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The world has witnessed the rise and fall of Sloane Stephens. And then the rise again. And maybe a little bit of a fall. And, even though she already is No. 3 in the world, there probably is another rise ahead of her — that is, if she has any say in the matter.

The reigning U.S. Open champion, who rose to prominence by beating Serena Williams at the 2013 Australian Open when she was 19 but for years was sidetracked by injury and inconsistency, descended on Flushing Meadows this week with the long game firmly in her mind. Defending her title would be great, but knocking off Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki from No. 1 and 2 this season would be greater.

“I’m just trying to get better and better, trying to improve my ranking, win more tournaments, win more titles,” Stephens said Friday ahead of the U.S. Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. “Obviously, there’s only two places to go from [No.] 3.”

It’s no wonder Stephens is hungry. She    won the 2017 U.S. Open in the same season she fell to No. 957 in the rankings. Her promise — portended at the ’13 Australian Open — had borne the fruit so many had expected for so long. Then she lost eight straight matches.

“I can always do better,” she said. “I mean, what’s happened has happened. I’m proud of my results. I just hope to keep going forward and have some more success.”

Stephens did recover. She won the Miami Open, climbed in the rankings and reached the French Open final. She did, however, lose to Halep in the Canadian Open final.

“Obviously, losing to the No. 1 player in the world is not too bad,” she said wryly. “Eventually I’m going to get her and hopefully it will be soon.”

So does that make this a legitimate rivalry?

“No,” she said. “It’s not a rivalry if you don’t beat the person.”

Wozniacki OK. Wozniacki, who retired from the Cincinnati Masters because of a knee injury, said she was not hurt as seriously as she previously believed and is ready for U.S. Open play. “I’ve been playing points now for the past few days and played sets and everything and I feel great,” said Wozniacki, who is seeded second. “I’m very happy with that progress. I’m 100 percent now.”


 

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