Sloane Stephens answers opening call
PARIS -- Coaching is a two-way street. While it is a coach's job to teach an athlete, the player can provide a lesson or two, as well. Just ask Sloane Stephens about her new coach, Paul Annacone.
"He doesn't know how to put on Wi-Fi [on his smartphone] for some reason," Stephens said after her first-round French Open victory over Peng Shuai on Tuesday. "In Australia he had, like, a $2,000 phone bill because he was on Twitter on his data roaming. I was like, 'Dude, what are you doing?' He was, like, sending Twitter pictures off his data roaming. I was, like, 'Dude, that's not ideal.'"
Learning to avoid international data roaming charges is, like, a very important lesson. But Annacone can, like, provide even more valuable lessons to Stephens. The man who coached Pete Sampras and Roger Federer is looking to take Stephens to that ideal level.
"I think she's unbelievably talented. There is no question, about her physical capabilities and skills," said Annacone, who started coaching Stephens last winter. "I think she just has to mature. She has to figure out how to manage her average days and her average games better. I think right now, because she's young and because she's a perfectionist, it's hard to do that.
"Because there is a new set of expectations that she puts on herself and everyone else does, it's a different environment to manage."
There have been extremely high expectations on Stephens, 21, ever since she upset Serena Williams in the quarterfinals at last year's Australian Open at age 19. Many expected her to become the next Serena. Quickly. While the current Serena was still winning. Stephens played well the rest of the year, reaching the fourth round at the French Open, the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, the fourth round at the US Open and rising to No. 12 in the world.
Stephens reached the fourth round at the Australian Open again in January but has struggled since, going one-and-done in five tournaments, entering Roland Garros 11-11 for the year and falling to 19th in the rankings. She got off to a good start here, though, with the 6-4, 7-6 (8) win over Shuai.
"Fortunately for her, she's found a way to do well at the majors and she's turned it on when she's needed it at the big events," said Mary Joe Fernandez, who has coached Stephens in Fed Cup. "She's been really inconsistent. Her concentration goes. I was reading some of the stuff her coaches say, that she's a slow starter. She's had a tough time getting that consistency and playing with that high intensity week in and week out."
Asked what changes when she gets to a major, Stephens answered, "If I knew what the switch was or what I was supposed to do, I would do it every week. I just come out and play and do my best. Fortunately it's at the Slams that I do well, so I'm not too disappointed with that."
Annacone said that contrary to some views, Stephens is not easily satisfied. Which can be a problem in itself.
"She's a perfectionist. So if she misses a few balls, it's not great -- she's frustrated," he said. "She has to learn to manage that better because she's a great athlete. She can get away with a lot lower level of tennis than many of the women because she's such a great athlete. But she has to allow herself to do that. If you don't, then you thrive only on perfect shots or 'I just won this point' or 'I just lost this point.'"
Stephens, he said, must learn to move on and focus instead on making the most of the next opportunity.
"I get really frustrated when things aren't perfect, but I'm learning in life that things aren't ever going to be perfect," Stephens said. "It's a lesson to be learned."
Were expectations too high and too early? Young players no longer dominate the way they once did in tennis. There are twice as many 30-somethings as teenagers competing here, and there is only one player in the top 30 who is younger than Stephens -- 19-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard. Then again, you do like to see progress.
"So many people have put her on the mantle to be the one to replace Serena. That is a lot of pressure. There is not going to be another Serena Williams," Fernandez said. "But she has a lot of potential, a lot of ability. And you just hope that she gets that sense of urgency to get it together on the quicker side."
"It's definitely tough when there are a lot of people who have different things to say," said Stephens, who will play Polona Hercog in the next round. "But I just have to focus on myself and do the best I can. It's a long year of tennis and just have to play every week and battle and stay happy because that's the only thing you can control."
Well, that and international roaming charges. But perhaps with time, consistency and perseverance, Stephens will give Annacone many celebratory pictures to tweet along with the least expensive way to transmit them.