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Sloane Stephens enters the US Open with new perspective four years after storybook ending

Stephens competes at the National Bank Open in August. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

When Sloane Stephens walks out of the tunnel at Arthur Ashe Stadium for her opening match of the US Open, it will be understandable if she has déjà vu. Four years ago, Stephens won the tournament with a straight-set victory over Madison Keys, her first-round opponent Monday.

Stephens’ unprecedented run to the trophy in 2017, in which she became the lowest-ranked US Open champion ever, remains her only Grand Slam title. She reached a career-best No. 3 world ranking the following year after winning the Miami Open and finishing as runner-up at the French Open.

Since then, Stephens has had mixed results.

Her form started to slip in 2019 and this year she fell out of the top 60 for the first time since before the 2017 US Open. Stephens has also had to cope with tragedy after losing an aunt, a grandmother and a grandfather to COVID-19 in the past year. She attended her grandparents’ funerals virtually from the bubble at the Australian Open in February and later said she regretted not going in person.

Stephens, 28, enters the US Open this week with a clearer mind. She has played better since the Australian Open and prioritized her mental health through the adversity. For Stephens, the last Grand Slam of the year also carries special meaning.

“It’s obviously the first Slam that I won,” she said. “And when I was 12, my mom and stepdad took me to the US Open. I have those experiences from when I was very young, and I think that’s what makes it so special.”

Stephens spoke with Just Women’s Sports about Naomi Osaka reigniting the conversation around mental health, her charity work off the court and what she’s learned about herself and her game since 2017.

The past year has brought several ups and downs, but you’ve had some good finishes at recent tournaments including making it to the fourth round of the French Open and the third round at Wimbledon. How do you feel about your game right now?

Good. Obviously the pandemic has been rough, and the point situations and the travel have been rough, and everything’s been difficult not just for me but for everyone. So getting matches every week and getting that confidence back is super helpful. I’m not where I was or where I want to be, but I think I’m headed in the right direction. So I’m happy with that, and I’m just trying to work through it, manage every day and just keep going.

I saw you recently changed coaches. What has that setup been like and what have you been working on with them?

I stopped working with Kamau Murray, but I kind of work with the same people. It’s always a different experience working with new people and so far, so good. I’m just trying to get into a space where I can be competitive and win matches again and be happy on the court. I think that’s the most important thing.

You were recovering from a knee injury this summer after a fall at Wimbledon. How has that recovery gone and how are you feeling physically?

The recovery went well. Obviously not enough time, but this is the most important time of the year. So I’m just trying to manage and make sure that I’m ready for the biggest tournament, which is the US Open, but also making sure that these next few weeks I put out good performances and good matches and am really competitive because this is the most important time.

You’ve dealt with injuries throughout your career and battled back from many different types of adversity. As you’ve gained experience from being on tour longer, have you learned to cope with those types of ups and downs better?

Yeah, we’re doing a lot of adjusting and coping. I would say the pandemic isn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with in my career, but injury is like nothing compared to this. Injuries you can kind of put in perspective, like you know what you’re working for, you know what you have to do to get back and you know what it’s going to take. In the pandemic, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know if the tour’s going to stop again. You don’t know what the circumstances are going to be week in and week out. So I think being injured is tough, but I’ve definitely put it in perspective more. I’ve dealt with it a lot in my career, but nothing compares to obviously a pandemic.

Since Naomi Osaka pulled out of the French Open and Wimbledon for mental health reasons, how has her message resonated with you and how important do you think it is that mental health has become part of the conversation?

Yeah, I’ve been talking about mental health and taking care of yourself for years now. And I think she was the perfect person to step up for herself when the time wasn’t right for her and to say what she needed to say. I think you have to support that and you have to applaud her because she did that when a lot of people wouldn’t, and I think that shows strength. She chose what was best for her and a lot of people didn’t like that. This pandemic has taught a lot of people that you do have to put yourself first and you have to choose yourself over making other people happy and making decisions based on what other people think. That’s just my personal experience, so I’m obviously happy to be around to see her strength and her will to do what is best for her.

It’s especially true in tennis because the schedule is so grueling during the year. Have you developed any tactics over the years to help with your own mental health?

Yeah, I do what’s best for me and I have been for a while. Obviously everyone is different and they handle everything differently. I have my own ways of coping to make sure that I’m in the best possible shape and form. It’s not easy, but I think that acknowledging whatever it is that you need to make sure that you feel good about yourself or feel good about what you’re doing is really important, with whatever method you use to determine that.

You’ve been on the WTA Player Council since 2019. Are you having more conversations about mental health now with the group?

I think it’s always been something that’s at the top of the list for everyone. We have a grueling schedule, it’s a long year, we’ve never been in a position where we’ve had to adjust to so many things and face so much adversity. The pandemic has put everything in perspective and it’s a different type of adjustment. So, being able to put this first and put the players first and put the group of players that really are struggling first, I think that’s been really important. We’ve discussed it a lot, we’ve kept it top of mind, and I think that’s the most important thing.

And speaking of lifting other people up, you’ve done a lot of work off the court with the Sloane Stephens Foundation and other charities in recent years. What have you been most proud of there and why is it so important to you?

When I started my foundation, it was more about giving the kids the opportunity through tennis and through education to see all of the possibilities and all of the goals and accomplishments you can reach. We’re based in the Compton Unified [School District], so a lot of our kids don’t have Internet, don’t have WiFi, don’t have computers, don’t have any access to keep up with their studies. They don’t have any tutors or they don’t have the necessary things that a lot of kids have access to. So for us over the pandemic, the most important part was making sure that our kids that were in our program not only had WiFi, but they had food to eat.

A lot of our families struggled with having meals. My mom was buying bulk food from Costco to take to our families. We don’t have that many kids, we don’t have 7,000 kids, but we have enough that we can make progress. And our girls that graduated high school this year that are going to four-year colleges, first-generation college students, that for us is a win. What we’ve done over the pandemic, it’s just been really great to see that through my tennis and the things that I’ve been able to do in my life and the things that I’ve been given in my life, I can give that back and be of help and assistance to another family who may need it. I think that’s what giving back is all about.

You were also a part of a WTA panel for young girls exploring future careers. Based on your own experiences, what was your message to those girls?

Put yourself first. There are always going to be ups and downs, but I think it’s important to be able to manage day-to-day. Like, have fun, enjoy your life, enjoy playing tennis, enjoy learning, enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing, because life is too short to not be happy. I think at a young age, when you have that mindset of enjoying yourself, being productive and setting a goal and going out and getting it, that determines how you live and how you choose to execute whatever it is on a daily basis. That’s what I try to tell them.

It’s been four years since you won the US Open. What have you learned about yourself as a player and a person since then?

I think a lot has happened. As a person, I’ve developed, I’ve learned, I’ve grown. As a player, there’s been adversity and ups and downs, but I try to navigate it as best I can and have a good attitude about it. That’s really all you can do.

You said at the beginning you’re feeling pretty good about your game right now. What are your goals going into the US Open?

Just winning matches, being competitive, trying to do my best. It’s been a long season and it’s been very hectic and chaotic. So I think going into every tournament ready to play and looking for wins is what the goal is. That’s pretty much all I can ask of myself, just to give my best effort and see how it goes.

Nelly Korda Continues Unprecedented LPGA Run

LPGA golfer Nelly Korda poses with Mizuho Americas Open trophy
Nelly Korda took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open on Sunday. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Nelly Korda continued her unprecedented LPGA run on Sunday, winning her sixth tournament in the last seven starts. 

The 25-year-old Florida native took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open, becoming the first LPGA player to record six wins in a single season since 2013 — and that’s with three majors and a little over half the season left to play.

"Oh, my gosh, six," Korda said after the win. "I can't even really gather myself right now with that, the head-to-head that Hannah and I had pretty much all day. Wasn't my best stuff out there today, but fought really hard on the back nine."

Korda is just the fourth player on tour to win six times before June 1st, joining LPGA Hall of Famers Babe Zaharias (1951), Louise Suggs (1953), and Lorena Ochoa (2008).

Should her victory run continue, Korda could break the current record for single-season wins, currently set at 13 by Mickey Wright in 1963.

Korda ended Sunday's tournament one shot ahead of Hannah Green, finishing the 18th with a par putt to win it all.

"I mean, to lose to Nelly kind of like is — it's sad, but then it's also Nelly Korda," Green said of her second-place finish. "You know, like she's obviously so dominant right now. To feel like second behind her is quite nice. Unfortunately the bogey on the last has a little bit of a sour taste."

Next up is the US Women’s Open, a tournament that Korda has yet to win in her career. 

"Obviously it's on the top of my priority list," she said. "I just know there is never any good when you put more pressure on yourself. Just going to stay in my bubble that week and take it a shot at a time."

Earlier this year, Korda became the fastest player to collect $2 million in prize money over a single season. This latest win earned her an additional $450,000, bringing her season total up to $2,943,708.

Caitlin Clark Signs Multi-Year Deal with Wilson, Gets Signature Basketball Collection

caitlin clark poses with wilson basketball
Clark is just the second athlete to get a signature basketball collection with Wilson. (Wilson Sporting Goods)

Caitlin Clark has signed a multi-year endorsement deal with Wilson Sporting Goods that will include a signature basketball collection, the brand announced early Tuesday. 

According to Boardroom, Clark is just the second athlete to develop a signature collection with Wilson, with the first being Michael Jordan in the 1980s. In addition to her basketball collection, she will also "test, advise and provide feedback on a range" of related products. 

Three Clark-branded white-and-gold Wilson basketballs have already dropped. Each ball features laser-cut engravings of some of the guard's most memorable moments at Iowa, where she became the all-time leading scorer in Division I college basketball history.

Three Wilson basketballs from Clark's collection have already dropped. (Wilson Sporting Goods).

"I think it is super special, and it's been fun for me," Clark told Boardroom. "I feel like I was just that young kid who had those basketballs that I would store in the garage. I'm just very lucky and fortunate to partner with Wilson to create something that everyone can enjoy. It connects with a lot of generations, and it'll be fun to see kids walking around holding them."

The No. 1 overall pick at the 2024 WNBA Draft, Clark has been building up a slate of major endorsements since turning pro. Current partnerships include Gatorade and Panini, and she’s also close to signing a signature shoe deal with Nike worth a reported $28 million.

New York Liberty off to First 4-0 Start in 17 Years

sabrina ionescu of the new york liberty on the court
Sabrina Ionescu led the undefeated Liberty to a 74-63 win over Seattle Monday night. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty are 4-0 on the season for the first time since 2007. 

The 2023 WNBA title finalists notched a 74-63 win over Seattle on Monday night, with Sabrina Ionescu dropping 20 points alongside eight assists. After the game, Ionescu told reporters she thought the team was coming together a bit easier than they did last year.

"I think having a year together, we don't nearly have to communicate as much on the court anymore," she said. "Because we can just play off one another and read. And that's obviously been the growth of this team, is being able to play a season together last year."

The team’s defense has also contributed heavily to the season's winning start. Last night, the Liberty held Jewell Loyd to just 13 points and nine rebounds. Loyd let the Storm in scoring, with only two other players in double digits, while Nneka Ogwumike missed her second straight game with an ankle injury. 

Storm free agency acquisition Skylar Diggins-Smith had eight points, and is averaging 14.5 points and 5.8 assists per game this season. In her postgame remarks, Storm head coach Noelle Quinn called on others to give her grace in her return. 

"There needs to be respect about the fact that she's had two children and hasn’t played in 20 months," said Quinn. "She’s not going to come overnight and be who she was 20 months ago and we have to respect that and honor that. And I do.

"My grace as a coach is to know she’s working her butt off every day. You guys don’t see it. Every single day. Two children. Not one, two. Not many can do that."

Australia’s Sam Kerr Ruled Out for 2024 Paris Olympics With ACL Injury

sam kerr playing for the australian womens national team
A longtime Matildas mainstay, Kerr has made 128 appearances for Australia alongside 69 career goals. (Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images)

Australia has confirmed that captain and star striker Sam Kerr will miss the Paris Olympics due to an ACL injury suffered early this year. 

Kerr, who also stars for Chelsea, tore her ACL in January. While unlikely that she would recover in time for the Olympics, Football Australia (FA) hadn’t confirmed her status until Tuesday when the team revealed its squad for upcoming warm-up games. 

In a statement, the FA said that Kerr remained on the sidelines and will continue her rehab program at Chelsea. 

"Attacker Amy Sayer (ACL) and forward Sam Kerr (ACL) remain on the sidelines with long term injuries," the report read. "Kerr and Sayer will continue their rehabilitation programmes in their home club environments and subsequently will not be available for selection for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games."

Tuesdays 23-player squad is a "strong guide" to the final Olympic lineup, according to coach Tony Gustavsson, but others like injured midfielders Katrina Gorry and Aivi Luik could potentially figure into the conversation. 

"[They] most likely will be physically available to be part of an Olympic roster," Gustavsson said of Gorry and Luik. "This window will be a tough one for me and my staff in terms of evaluating players, where they are, and then the final selection process for Paris."

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