Friday, January 19, 2018

Stephens comments puzzling after opening-round Australian Open loss

A few months ago, tennis player Sloane Stephens was on top of the world. She won her first Grand Slam title in her first appearance in a slam final. It was a 6-3, 6-0 victory over fellow American player Madison Keys at the U.S. Open to finish off the slam calendar of 2017.

It was a bright spot in women's tennis. One that fans hoped would spark some continued success. 

Well, now it hasn't. Stephens is 0-8 since winning her title, with the latest loss coming as the No. 13 seed in the first round of the Australian Open, a 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2 loss to Zhang Shuai of China. 

That's all concerning enough, but her words in the post-match presser in Australia were also a little troubling to hear. Sure, she isn't the only American in the women's field to get upset early in Aussie land. Venus Williams and Coco Vandeweghe, just to name a couple Americans that lost in the first round while fans back in the United States were still talking about that finish in an NFC playoff game. 

When it comes to Stephens after this loss, to me there's a difference between keeping a positive attitude and then being so nonchalant about your first-round upset that there's no anger or frustration whatsoever. Stephens didn't seem to have that balance at all. She talked about not getting too down with the long season still ahead. She said she's going to "stay positive." Totally understandable, but aren't you also upset that you were upset in the first round considering you're the last woman to win a Grand Slam? 

So, a reporter asked her, has she had a tough time since the U.S. Open?

"I wouldn't call them tough times," Stephens said. "Everyone's so depressed, so down. It happens to everyone. I'm going to beat someone eventually. I'm going to have the best Instagram picture when I finally snap this losing streak.  
"It's not tough times. It's just learning experience. It's a long journey." 
That's what I'm excited to see: The Instagram picture. 

While I can understand what she's trying to convey here, I'm not sure I follow 100 percent. This isn't like she's a tennis superstar who's hit a slump. The only tennis superstar on the women's circuit has been and still is Serena Williams. Anyone else still needs to prove themselves as a consistent and dominant player, in my opinion.

She said she's "going to beat someone eventually." While that's probably true, it doesn't inspire much confidence when you sit there and don't seem the least bit concerned that you haven't won a match since the biggest victory of your career. How do you plan to beat someone if you just shrug your shoulders about it? 

Now, maybe I'm using Stephens as the scapegoat here. She's just 24 years old and has already had some success; she will always be a Grand Slam champion. If she's happy with that, then who are we to judge?

"For me now, it's not that great," Stephens said. "But it's nothing to panic about, guys. Winning the U.S. Open was the best thing that happened in my tennis career."

Future of women's tennis still a question mark 
ESPN tennis analyst and former tennis player Chris Evert pointed out that with Serena not playing in the tournament (My opinion: She didn't want to come back yet because, while she could play, she doesn't want to return until she knows she can beat everybody.), that means the rest of the field might be feeling the pressure. Meaning, when Serena plays, they're not expected to beat her, so they have nothing to lose. With Serena out, everyone thinks it's up to them to step up and fill the void.

Instead, it's led to more upsets than anything else. Honestly, when I watch these slams, I go in expecting upsets rather than dominant tennis matches, especially on the women's side. And let's picture the women's tennis landscape without Serena in the fold, because that will happen at some point, whether it's in a year or a few years. What will that look like?

Who is going to come on the scene as the next tennis great in the women's game? Meaning, who can be a consistently-ranked player, win some slams and not get upset all the time? I don't have a name to add to this right now.

Maria Sharapova is a weird case, coming back after her two-year ban for breaking the drug-test rules, so the former Grand Slam champion is at a weird spot in the seeding process compared to her level of play. Caroline Wozniacki hasn't shown me she can keep it together mentally to win tournaments. Genie Bouchard is working her way back from concussion issues. Venus has surged back to some success but is still most definitely in the sunset of her career at 37 years old. Simona Halep is ranked No. 1 but has yet to win a Slam.

American fans have their fingers crossed for players like Stephens and Keys, the other U.S. Open finalist last fall who's still alive in the Aussie Open this year. But with every player of promise seems to come more disappointment.

I'd like to look forward to watching some solid women's tennis matches going forward, rather than upset after upset.