A star is born ...

2013-01-27 10:00

Sloane Stephens’s back story shows her pluck

There is a tendency for stars to be born at big sporting tournaments.

No one paid any attention to the 19-year-old, 1.7m tall Sloane Stephens, who weighs 61kg, as she strode into the court for her opening Australian Open match last week.

To many, she was just one of those making up the numbers.

Having only earned $1 218 311 (about R10 922 523) since turning professional in 2009, she had hardly made any waves yet in the world of screams, groans and grunts.

Despite beating Ekaterina Makarova, Bethanie Mattek-Sanda and Mathilde Johansson to reach the fourth round in last year’s French Open, she bowed out in the third round of the Wimbledon Championships.

So before this week, she had not gone beyond the fourth round in any Grand Slam.

Then voila!

On Tuesday she caused the upset of the tournament, eliminating Number 3 seed Serena Williams 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 to make it to the semifinals.

In the process she endeared herself to the Australian crowd, who just loves an underdog, while also engraving her name in the minds of the global tennis following.

Not many noticed her steadily making progress by beating Briton Laura Robson 7-5, 6-3 and then Bojana Jovanovski 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 to reach the quarterfinals.

Despite the crowd being behind her in the semifinal, she could not reproduce her quarterfinal magic as swashbuckling World Number 1 Victoria Azarenka dismantled her 6-1, 6-4 in just less than two hours, 101 minutes.

The first set took 33 minutes but Stephens fought bravely in the second, where the winner needed six match points and the set lasted 68 minutes.

There was also a controversial 10-minute medical break requested by Azarenka at a very crucial stage of the second set.

The good news though is that Stephens’ stellar performance will see her jump from Number 29 to 17 when the latest Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings are released tomorrow.

While it emerged this week that her sporting prowess might have something to do with her genes – (her father John M Stephens was National Football League side New England Patriots running back) and her mother, Sybil Smith, an All-American swimmer at Boston University – there is a tragic side to her tale.

Her parents divorced while she was still very young.

She only established a relationship with her father – which became quite a friendly one – when she was 13 years old.

He called Sloane after discovering that he was suffering from a degenerative bone disease and felt the need to develop a relationship with her before his approaching death.

As their friendship was developing, disaster struck when her 43-yar-old dad lost control of his truck on a rural stretch of the Louisiana highway in September 2009 and died.

She went straight from her dad’s funeral to play in the US Open where she had already been fixtured.

Trawling the internet to find out more about the father she hardly knew, she discovered that he had pleaded guilty to rape charges in Missouri in 1994 and served probation for the crime.

He was arrested on further charges of sexual assault outside Shreveport in April 2009.

These charges were pending at the time of his death. Her mother had kept all this from her as she only wanted her daughter to know the good side of her father.

As part of her mourning and to attempt to come to terms with the difficulties in her life, her mother says she would go out and just whack a tennis ball.

“I try and be calm and not to show my emotions too much,” she told journalists this week.

That’s the attitude that is bound to propel her into the history books of tennis.

That is if she maintains this attitude and is not swallowed up by the euphoria that must come with her conquest in Melbourne.

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