(Reuters) - Sloane Stephens has a new swagger in her step since winning last year’s U.S. Open but now faces the challenge of showing it in the New York spotlight as she gets set to defend a grand slam title for the first time in her career.
“I think there is a lot of pressure. I’ve never done it before. A lot of other people have. First go around sometimes isn’t that great,” said the 25-year-old American baseliner.
“I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure that I’m prepared, in the best shape possible, hopefully playing some good tennis by the time the U.S. Open comes around.”
Stephens’s triumph over friend and compatriot Madison Keys in last year’s final at Flushing Meadows capped one of the most remarkable injury comebacks in recent memory.
By the time she lifted the U.S. Open trophy, Stephens had recovered from foot surgery that forced her to miss most of the season and from a ranking that had fallen to nearly 1,000 to win her first slam all inside a year.
In doing so, Stephens became just the fourth black woman to win a grand slam singles title, following Althea Gibson, Serena Williams and Venus Williams.
Following her U.S. Open title, Stephens embarked on an eight-match losing streak that lasted until February this year but she has since picked up a title in Miami, reached the French Open final and is a career-high third in the world rankings.
Stephens’s North American hardcourt campaign has offered reason for optimism over the coming fortnight as it included a run to the Montreal final, where she lost to world number one Simona Halep in a tight three-set match.
“I’m playing good tennis. There’s nothing to complain about. I hope that it keeps getting better. I hope it keeps improving,” said Stephens, who fell to Belgian Elise Mertens in the third round last week at Cincinnati in her final U.S. Open tune-up.
“But the way that I’m playing, I mean, I hope to continue, yeah, just kind of continue on this path and I think I’ll be okay.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ian Ransom