No Fun And No Run For Sloane Stephens At US Open

NEW YORK -- The way Sloane Stephens sees it, the main thing she is missing from her game is fun.

Not aggressiveness, a decent game plan, good shot selection or the desire to be on the court and win.

"I want to have fun on the court," Stephens, the No. 21 seed, said three times Wednesday after her difficult-to-watch 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 loss to 96th-ranked Johanna Larsson in the second round of the US Open.

"Just enjoy myself out there," Stephens said after her earliest exit here. "I think that's the most important thing."

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Sloane Stephens was done in by 63 unforced errors in her second-round match.

That's going to be difficult while committing 63 unforced errors (to her opponent's 30), having her serve broken eight times and losing a match after being up a set and 3-love.

But more exasperating than watching Stephens fail to use her superior speed, seemingly lose her opponent's position on the court and root herself too far behind the baseline, is the appearance that her fighter's mentality is a fading memory.

"I'm not too worried about ranking or winning a tournament or anything like that," Stephens said after Larsson won her second career US Open match. "Just focusing on myself and mostly just enjoying myself out there."

Stephens' split with coach Paul Annacone in July, and her decision soon after to work with Thomas Hogstedt, the former coach of Maria Sharapova (who won the French Open and reached No. 1 while working with him), was viewed as a signal that perhaps the fiery and often-testy 21-year-old was ready to rededicate herself to her game.

But she would not fully commit herself to that, either.

"There's no magic that he can tell me or do that will just ... all of a sudden I'll be top-10 or whatever," she said. "That's not how it works. You have to keep working hard and do better every day. That's all."

Clearly, this year has been a series of stops and starts approaching an early-career crossroads. First there was Stephens' streak of six straight majors in which she reached the fourth round or better, including a career-best semifinal berth (after defeating Serena Williams in the quarters) at the 2013 Australian Open.

I haven't had that great of a season. But, like I said, I'm not going to dwell on it.
Sloane Stephens

But mixed in among the Slams were forgettable results in tour events, specifically six first-round losses in six tournaments in 2014, four to players ranked 108th or lower.

And then there was a straight-sets loss to Maria Kirilenko in the first round at Wimbledon. Kirilenko was a three-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist ranked No. 10 in 2013, but she was ranked 109th when she defeated Stephens, who caustically "apologized" to the assembled press.

"The streak is broken," she said of her success in Grand Slams. "I'm so sorry to all of you who don't have to write about me this week and next week. I'm so sorry."

On Wednesday, she spoke of getting her game together.

"I'm sure you guys will be here every tournament to see me get through it," she told reporters. "So, welcome, and I'm glad you guys are along for the ride."

In all this year, Stephens, who lost in the fourth round of the Australian and French opens, finishes with seven wins this Grand Slam season, dropping three of her last four matches in Slam play.

The expectations of a top-10 breakthrough were clearly premature, but now ranked 24th, Stephens, while still the highest-ranked American woman after Serena and Venus Williams, is headed in the wrong direction.

And as her quarter of the draw opened up Wednesday with the upset of No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, it will not be Stephens, but rather Angelique Kerber or Alize Cornet or Jelena Jankovic most likely poised to take advantage.

"I haven't had that great of a season," Stephens said. "But like I said, I'm not going to dwell on it. There is always room for improvement. Everyone has their ups and downs. Everyone goes through times like this. I'm not the first person and won't be the last. Like I said, I'm looking forward to the next tournament. And that's all I can really do, just look forward."

And don't forget the fun.

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