US Open champion Sloane Stephens is hoping a trip to the Cayman Islands for the Legends Tennis tournament this weekend will help her rediscover her magic touch.
The 24-year-old, who upset the odds at Flushing Meadows to take the 2017 US Open title, is the star attraction at this weekend’s exhibition at Camana Bay.
“I am excited. I have heard amazing things about Cayman. I don’t play that many exhibitions but I thought this would be a really awesome one to do,” she told the Compass this week.
“I committed to playing in Cayman before I won the US Open and I wasn’t going to back out – I was playing no matter what.”
The Legends tournament, as the name implies, has typically attracted retired stars including Anna Kournikova and Andy Roddick.
But Ms. Stephens’ appearance this year is the first time a reigning Grand Slam champion has been involved.
She is in good company.
Also in the lineup for Friday and Saturday are Jimmy Connors, an eight-time Grand Slam winner and one of the greats of the game, Swedish legend Stefan Edberg, Australia’s former Wimbledon champ Pat Cash and the world’s top junior player, 17-year-old Claire Liu.
Ms. Stephens comes into the tournament on the back of a first round exit in the Australian Open. She said she was looking forward to a relaxed affair at Festival Green.
“It will be nice to get out there and hit a few balls and just play for fun,” she said.
It will be her first time in Cayman, but she has heard good reports of the island from her partner, U.S. national soccer star Jozy Altidore, who visited in January for a fundraiser and coaching clinic.
“We talked about it and he said it was amazing and he had such a great time, I heard it’s beautiful – now it’s my turn. I hope I get to see some of the island. It is always amazing to see new places.”
Ms. Stephens was languishing at number 957 in the world rankings when she returned from an 11-month layoff with a foot injury at Wimbledon last year.
That was the start of a spectacular comeback that culminated with her triumph over fellow American Madison Keys to win the US Open final in straight sets.
“Winning the US Open was incredible. It was a great time for me, a great moment for me and for U.S. tennis,” she said.
“Since then, a lot has happened in my life. I am taking everything in my stride and I’m making sure I am enjoying myself and taking it day by day.”
Ms. Stephens hails from a sporting family. Her mother Sybil Smith was a swimmer at Boston University and was the first African American woman to be recognized as First Team All-American in Division 1. Her father John Stephens was a running back for the New England Patriots before his death in a car accident in 2009.
Ms. Stephens, who paid tribute to her mother after her US Open win, said, “Having supportive people in your family is what matters most. I have that and that is the most important thing, regardless of whether they are in sports or not.”
Despite the pressures of competitive sports, she said she still enjoys her tennis.
“It is such a big part of my life. I have played for so long I can’t imagine my life without tennis, it would be a struggle,” she said.
“I enjoy hitting every day, being on the court, seeing my friends. Whenever you get out there, it is competition. Anything can happen on that day.”
For youngsters getting into the sport, she said the key is simply to have fun.
“Just enjoy, don’t stress. Careers aren’t all that long. I’ve played tennis for a long time and I am in the middle of my career – you have to enjoy playing every day.”