MELBOURNE — Sloane Stephens hasn’t gained a fit within the seven she’s performed since successful her first Grand Slam name on the U.S. Open closing September. Nevertheless, the 24-year-old is pushing aside that reality as inconsequential as she approaches the beginning of the Australian Open.

“I think you have to kind of put everything in perspective, evaluate where you are,” Stephens stated. “I think personally I had a lot of things going on. It’s a new year, new season. I’m hoping not to get injured. There’s tons of things to look forward to. I’m not going to dwell too much on that (the losses).”

Following her triumphant U.S. Open, Stephens spent the rest of 2017 coping with a knee damage, and misplaced all six suits performed throughout the rest of the season, together with two on the Fed Cup ultimate. Despite Stephens’ missing efficiency the U.S. larger their Fed Cup successful file to 18 titles with their Three-2 win over Belarus in Minsk.

The spotlight of the 13th-seeded Stephen’s autumn got here off the courtroom when she graduated with some extent in communications from Indiana University East thru a reduced on-line program organized with the college via the WTA.

“Everyone in my family has a degree. My mom has her doctorate,” Stephens stated. “My brother is in college. I have to graduate before him because I’m better than him. I have to prove to him that I’m smarter in everything.”

While Stephens speaks of hope heading into the brand new yr, she didn’t get started 2018 on a top notice. She misplaced her first fit Five-7, 6-Three, 6-1 to the apparently rejuvenated Angelique Kerber of Germany, the 2016 Australian Open champion, on the Sydney event previous this week.

Stephens’ upward push to Grand Slam champion standing performed out like a fairytale, which earned her the 2017 WTA Comeback Player of the Year honors. Sidelined with a foot damage for one month shy of a yr, Stephens returned to the excursion at Wimbledon, ranked as little as No. 957 the closing week of July, after which went 15-2 in suits performed throughout the U.S. Open.

“I think it’s always a tough transition when you go from not playing tennis for 11 months to winning a Grand Slam,” Stephens stated. “It’s by no means going to be the rest you anticipated. In phrases of that, it’s somewhat bit overwhelming.

“I believed successful the U.S. Open was once, like, the toughest two weeks of my existence.” she stated. “To win seven matches in a row, to say that’s luck? I wouldn’t say that. … If it wasn’t hard, then everyone could do it, right?”

Stephens made her first large impact within the game on the 2013 Australian Open when she disenchanted Serena Williams to achieve a primary main semifinal.

In a place to transform the 10th participant to win back-to-back titles on the U.S. and Australian Opens, Stephens will play 35th-ranked Zhang Shuai of China within the first spherical.

Stephens, who was once additionally seeded 13th the one different time she was once seeded on the Australian Open in 2014, is one in every of 4 American ladies with seeding difference this yr. Venus Williams is the highest-seeded participant of the Americans at No. Five, Coco Vandeweghe is No. 10 and Madison Keys, who misplaced to Stephens within the U.S. Open ultimate, is No. 17.

The Australian Open will no doubt now not have a repeat champion this yr with Serena Williams ultimate on maternity depart after the delivery of her first kid, daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., in September. The handiest previous champion within the ladies’s draw is Kerber, so there are excellent odds that the Australian Open will welcome a brand new champion in two week’s time.

The 37-year-old Venus Williams arrives right here as the nearest factor to a protecting champion, because it was once she who was once defeated via her already pregnant sister, Serena, in closing yr’s ultimate.

The oldest participant on this yr’s draw, Williams reached the Australian Open and Wimbledon finals, and the BNP Paribas WTA Finals, however by no means gained a name closing season. This yr’s Australian Open has to be thought to be a wide-open Open, and Williams’ revel in, and appropriate game taste for the exhausting courts right here, might be able to ship an 8th total Grand Slam name, and her first since Wimbledon 2008.

“She’s 37 years old; at her age, winning a Grand Slam would be a ridiculous achievement, especially as it would be her first Australian Open title,” stated Martina Navratilova, in a column she penned at the WTA’s reputable website online. “Last year, Williams came so close in Melbourne, when she was the runner-up to her younger sister, and now she goes into the tournament knowing she won’t have to deal with Serena, and that should put some pep in her step.”  

The ladies’s game is beginning the 2018 season in equivalent type to the open-door coverage to the sector No. 1 score that peppered all of closing yr.

In 2017, 5 avid gamers held the highest spot — Kerber, Serena Williams, Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic, Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain and Simona Halep of Hungary.

Halep, the present No. 1, can also be challenged for the highest place via 5 avid gamers at this yr’s Australian Open. Former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, who gained the 2017 year-end name, in addition to Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, Muguruza, reigning French Open Jelena Ostapenko, and Pliskova may just all depart Melbourne Park on the best of the scores.


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