By Jackie Finn
Throughout the year, we will be taking a look at players who could contend or surprise during this year’s Series. Up now: 22-year-old American Sloane Stephens, the only woman with multiple tour titles in 2016.
The Sloane Stephens File
Residence: Coral Springs, FL
Current Rank: 22
Career- High Rank: 11 (October 2013)
Best 2015 Series Finish: Round of 16 (Cincinnati)
It was back in 2013 that Sloane Stephens first made national headlines, earning a spot in the second week of all four Grand Slams. Her standout season included a surprise run to the Australian Open semifinals, where she defeated compatriot Serena Williams in the quarterfinals before falling to No. 1 seed Victoria Azarenka.
Since reaching a peak ranking of No. 11 in that 2013 season, however, Stephens has struggled to reach the heights that many had expected. Now, that might all be changing.
Last July, Stephens won her first career WTA title at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. And ever since, her ranking has been slowly on the rise.
A second career title, in Auckland at the ASB Classic in January, seemed to indicate that this might be the year the Florida native makes another deep run in a major tournament. A first-round exit at the 2016 Australian Open blunted some of Stephens’ momentum. But she quickly shook off the loss by winning her Fed Cup singles match, and she impressively closed out an epic three-set victory in the final of Acapulco, defeating former Top 10 player Dominka Cibulkova, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(5).
Her second title in two short months may just be the catalyst needed to propel the speedy baseliner back into the Top 20, providing a boost of confidence for the young star.
Up next for Stephens will be two tournaments on American soil: The BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open, two of the biggest tournaments outside of the Grand Slams. But it remains to be seen whether a win on the beaches of Acapulco will translate to success in the desert of Indian Wells or in the humidity of Key Biscayne.
With her up and down (and up again) start to 2016, Stephens has shown considerable ability on the court to beat some of the biggest stars on the WTA tour. Consistency is the only ingredient that is currently missing from the recipe for a career-high ranking and, possibly, a few additional titles this summer in the Emirates Airline US Open Series.