What a way for Sloane Stephens to breakthrough. This evening the 19-year-old from Florida pulled off the upset of the tournament by stunning 5-time champion Serena Williams 36, 75, 64 in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open on Rod Laver Court.
Stephens was a big underdog to Serena and after the first hour of the match she was down a set and a break to Serena. Business as usual for Serena.
But Serena appeared to further damage an ailing back she first injured yesterday in doubles, and Sloane was able to take advantage, winning the second set and then saving break chances en route to the third.
Stephens is the first teen into the semifinals at a Grand Slam since 19-year-olds Caroline Wozniacki and Yanina Wickmayer at the 2009 US Open.
Stephens will now be firmly in the Top 20 and her tournment isn’t done yet. Tomorrow she’ll challenge World No. 1 and defending tournament champion Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals.
Here’s what she told the press after her historic win with her on-court video:
Q. You weren’t able to express your emotions in the court earlier. Maybe you can express them now after a few minutes after you won.
SLOANE STEPHENS: I don’t know. Yeah, I don’t know how I feel. It’s still strange. I talked to my grandparents after. My grandma was just like, Oh, good job. They want to talk about my coach more than they want to talk about the actual match.
I listened to them and they calmed me down a little bit, so it was good.
Q. Not many people gave you a chance to do what you just did. What chance did you give yourself before you stepped out on the court?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Uhm, last night I was thinking about it and I was like someone asked me like, Do you think you can win? I was like, Yeah, I think so, but I wasn’t like too clear about it.
Then this morning when I got up, I was like, Look, dude, like, you can do this. Like, go out and play and do your best.
I think I was convinced that I was able to do it when I lost serve in the first game in the second set and I went down 2 0. And I was like, Hmm, this is not the way you want it to happen. But you just fight and just get every ball back, run every ball down, and just get a lot of balls in play, I think you’ll be okay.
From then on I got aggressive, started coming to the net more, and just got a lot more comfortable. I just kind of just kind of played my game from there, I think.
Q. Did her back problems throw you off? Did that affect your game?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah, I mean, she was serving at lower speeds, but her serve, she hits spots. No matter how slow it’s going, it’s right on the line. It’s still a really good serve even though it’s much slower.
But, no, her serve was affected definitely, but she was still hitting pretty good off the ground, I thought.
Q. Did you feel some nerves at that point, and also when you had set point?
SLOANE STEPHENS: At what point?
Q. When you had set points in the second set, the first ones.
SLOANE STEPHENS: Uhm, yeah, I think I served for the set. I mean, it was 5 3, 5 4, but, I mean, I was nervous, yeah.
But then I was like, Forget it. Might as well just go for it. So I kind of just played through it, I think.
Q. You had a set point and three errors in that service game.
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah.
Q. Did you feel in the third set when she broke at 4 3, did you feel that she got nervous?
SLOANE STEPHENS: No. I wasn’t even I was just trying to focus on me really.
Q. What about when Serena started beating up on her racquet and whacked it a couple times into the ground? Were you thinking, I’m the one who just made Serena Williams do that?
SLOANE STEPHENS: No. I’ve seen her do it before. But this is tennis; it happens. I mean, sometimes you just get frustrated and things like that happen.
But, I mean, obviously it’s a tough situation. You’re playing a close match and it happened. But, I mean, she’s still going to play no matter what, smashed racquets, no smashed racquets, so…
Q. When you see someone unravelling like that, does that give you a mental edge?
SLOANE STEPHENS: No. I mean, you’re playing Serena, one of the best competitors in the world. She might smash a racquet, but she’s still going to play hard.
It was definitely like, Wow, that just happened. But it was more like, Okay, now you even have to play harder because she’s going to be firing.
Q. What did you say to her at the net at the end of the match?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Good match; well played. I say the same thing every time, so… Good match, well played.
She just said, Good match. I think she said the same thing, yeah. I don’t even remember, honestly.
Q. How did you keep your focus when she was off court? Had you experienced that sort of thing? How did you keep your focus?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Uhm, I just I mean, I kind of just was hanging out. Just chillax and gave me a little break. I don’t know.
I mean, I’ve gotten it a lot recently. In the last three weeks it’s happened to me a lot, so I was prepared. I kind of like go through like some things in my head and then look and see what my coach is doing. And he was eating a chicken sandwich when that happened.
So, I mean, kind of just little things. But it doesn’t really bother me as much anymore.
Q. Did it seem a long period of time?
SLOANE STEPHENS: No, it was okay. I mean, in my second round match I played someone who went to the bathroom for seven minutes. I mean, that three minutes was really no big deal.
So it was okay.
Q. This time last year you were calling her a tennis god and you hadn’t established a relationship with her. Today you beat the tennis god. Talk about your mental improvement and ability.
SLOANE STEPHENS: I definitely improved a lot. I mean, definitely last year it was all new to me and it was just kind of a new experience.
Like I said last or even in Brisbane. It was the first time, so it was tough. But once you get by the first time you do anything it’s tricky. I think I was kind of just ready to play.
Of course, I’ve improved a lot and worked really hard on my fitness and all that other stuff. So I was definitely grateful that the year that has gone by has been a good one.
Q. You went for the Smartphone pretty fast after the match. I know you were looking for a text from your mom. What was the first thing you saw?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I couldn’t really do anything because the messages were coming in, so I couldn’t read like anything. I was like, Wait, this is pointless. So I just put it down.
But, yeah, my mom. I couldn’t reach my mom. I called. So I had to call my brother and he couldn’t even talk. He was like freaking out. I was like, Okay, where’s mom? I was like, Okay, never mind. Bye.
But, yeah, I did talk to them.
Q. Do you remember the first time you watched the game of Serena on TV? When you were a little girl, did you ever try to learn from her on TV and imitate her?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Uhm, no, not really. I mean, I always love watching her play obviously, but never tried to like copycat or anything like that.
Q. How much better did you play today than you did in your fourth round match?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I mean, it’s definitely it’s really tough, because people say that like you don’t have tough matches, like if you play someone that’s like your age.
But it’s definitely harder playing like Laura Robson or Jovanovski, someone who sis your age, rather than playing someone like if I played Vesnina. Like it wouldn’t be like you don’t feel as much pressure playing Vesnina, but you feel a lot of pressure playing someone who is your age, who you’re close to.
Obviously, it was difficult playing Jovanovski. It’s for the quarters of a slam. I wasn’t playing my best. It got a little tricky.
Today I just really didn’t have anything to lose. I mean, you’re playing for the semis of a Grand Slam. You just got to go out and do it really.
Q. I know you’re a big tweeter. How many followers did you have before this match?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I had 17,000; now I have 35,000 (smiling).
Q. So you should just beat Serena more and more and keep doubling and doubling.
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah, definitely. And John Legend tweeted me. Dirk tweeted me. I mean, I’m just excited. I want John Legend to sing at my wedding. I was like, Oh, my God. He tweeted me. What can I do? I don’t know. I’m still thinking.
Q. How many messages did you end up with on your phone?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Well, I have like 200 and something now. Wait, I can tell you how many. 213 on this one. This is kind of cool. Yeah, I have 213 on this one, and then I don’t use this one. I only talk to one person, two people on this phone, and I had like 20 messages. I was like, Oh, interesting.
Q. How on earth are you going to respond or reply?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Well, I’m still trying to figure that out because I thought it was free to receive text messages, but someone told me otherwise. So I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do, because otherwise my phone bill is going to be crazy and my mom is going to be like, Oh, my God, your phone bill.
She’s going to be like, The money you were going to buy yourself something nice with, you’re going to pay your phone bill.
Q. When you came in, you said you were just going to go for it. At this stage now, to be where you are, is that beyond the wildest expectations you had at the start of the Australian summer?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yes, definitely. I mean, I should have made some more bets on like people wearing my tennis clothes or something, because, honestly, not playing from US Open till January, that’s really tough. I took a lot of time off just kind of being a normal kid, doing whatever.
To be in the semis of a Grand Slam is definitely I say a good accomplishment. A lot of hard work.
But it’s nice to just it’s nice to be in this position.
Q. When is the moment walking through the corridors when you sort of pinch yourself and say, I’ve done this?
SLOANE STEPHENS: No, I was stretching, and I was like, I’m in the semis of a Grand Slam. I was like, Whoa. It wasn’t as hard as I thought. But it’s pretty cool.
Q. Talk about Azarenka.
SLOANE STEPHENS: Gonna be a totally different match. Uhm, I’m just going to go out and play my best, obviously. Do what I do really well and just play my game. Just hopefully, you know, play well again.
Q. One of those messages wasn’t from the White House, was it?
SLOANE STEPHENS: No.
Q. I think you’re going to get one.
SLOANE STEPHENS: From the White House? Well, if you know that then I
Q. I don’t know it.
SLOANE STEPHENS: No, no. You know, whatever.
I really want to go to the President’s Easter egg hunt, so if you could put in a good word for me.
Q. Back to the very start of the match in warmup, Bernard Tomic said after playing Federer that before the match he kind of felt good, and then they started reading out the honor roll. Did you go through anything like that, having it play with your mind?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I was thinking I actually had to think in my head, I was like, Do they really have to read all of her championships? I was like, Really?
But, uhm, I was okay. I literally was thinking in my head, Is he seriously reading every single tournament she’s won? It was okay. I thought about it for two seconds, but it was fine.
Q. After the US Open, if someone would have told you Australian Open semifinals in four months, what would you have said?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Let’s do it. Let’s just go ahead and do it.
Obviously a lot of hard work. Just grateful to be in this position and just happy that, uhm, everything that I’ve done has come together.
Q. You were talking in Hobart about wanting to get your first ever title. What would it be like to get your first ever title at a Grand Slam?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I’d be doing big things, so it would be nice.
No, just take it one day at a time obviously. Just play my best really. Just have fun, enjoy it. I’m kind of upset my mom’s not here, and my brother.
I know definitely everyone’s watching back home and is very proud of me, so just do my best and make them happy.
Q. How much did you feel like Brisbane helped you facing Serena, sort of the experience there from going into today on this stage?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Well, Brisbane helped me because I got the first time we played out of the way. First time is always tough. Definitely I was glad that I got it there, because I hadn’t played any matches and it helped me raise my level.
Going into Hobart I had been playing well. Unfortunately, I lost in the semis, which was fine. But then came in here with a lot of confidence and playing well.
That match definitely helped me coming into this week, last week and this week.
Q. You seem to be very calm and quiet on the court. Is this your true personality or do you have some mental work as well?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I don’t know. Uhm, well, on the court, I don’t know where I got that from. It’s just kind of like, I don’t know, just stay calm. No need to panic, just stay calm.
Off the court I’m totally not like that, so I don’t know. Like am I two different people?
Q. It’s a natural ability.
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah, it’s kind of cool.
Q. When she got hurt in the second set, how difficult was it to stay calm? Did you think about changing tactics? What was going through your head?
SLOANE STEPHENS: No, I really just wasn’t thinking about anything other than myself because I was like, I’m going to get distracted. I’m going to start thinking about something else and it’s going to be a mess.
I just tried to stay focused on myself, stay within myself, because otherwise it would have been a disaster.
Q. Since you are a different person off the court, can you share what you do in your leisure time?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Well, I on line shop a lot. Well, when I’m away from home, I watch a lot of TV shows. So I do that. I go to the same dinner restaurant every night. I mean, I’m kind of saying I just do the same thing all the time.
But, I mean, when I’m not at a tournament, I love sports. I love basketball, football, watch all kinds of sports. I just keep updated on life really.
Q. When did you start working with your current coach?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I started working with David, I think Wimbledon was our first tournament that we started last year. So I don’t know. I don’t know how many months that is. Awhile, though.
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