Stephens Stays Calm to Oust Her Idol Williams at Australian Open

Sloane Stephens kept her cool before her family lost theirs to oust her idol Serena Williams from the Australian Open and reach her first tennis Grand Slam semifinal.

Stephens, a 19-year-old from Florida, fought back to win the all-U.S. quarterfinal 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 at Melbourne Park yesterday and secure her first career win against a top 10-ranked player. She’ll face defending-champion Victoria Azarenka today for a place in the Jan. 26 final.

The only teenager ranked in the top 50 on the women’s tour, Stephens went immediately for her smart phone after ending Williams’s 20-match winning streak, only to be frustrated.

“I couldn’t really do anything because the messages were coming in, so I couldn’t read anything,” Stephens said in a news conference. “I was like, wait, this is pointless, so I just put it down. I couldn’t reach my mom. I called my brother and he couldn’t even talk. He was like, freaking out. I was like, OK, where’s mom? Never mind. Bye.”

Stephens, whose late father, John, was an All-Pro running back with the National Football League’s New England Patriots, stayed focused when Williams, a 15-time major champion, received treatment for a back injury that restricted her movement and reduced her serving power.

“I kind of just was hanging out,” said Stephens, the 29th seed. “I kind of go through some things in my head and then look and see what my coach is doing. And he was eating a chicken sandwich when that happened.”

Prize Money

By becoming the first American teenager to reach a Grand Slam semifinal since Williams at the 2001 U.S. Open, Stephens guaranteed herself a check of at least $A500,000 ($527,000).

She’d entered the tournament with career prize money of $694,995, compared with a women’s-tour record $41.9 million for Williams.

“She’s a good player,” Williams, 31, said after the loss. “She runs fast and she gets a lot of balls back. That’s always a plus to have.”

The additional funds may not mean Stephens goes on a spending spree. She said that she would try to avoid replying to her more than 200 well-wishing text messages because of concerns over racking up a big bill.

“I thought it was free to receive text messages, but someone told me otherwise,” Stephens said. “I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do, because otherwise my phone bill is going to be crazy and my mom is going to be like, ‘Oh my God, your phone bill.’”

Stephens also discovered that the number of followers on her Twitter account had more than doubled to 35,000. Among those to congratulate her on the social networking site were four-time National Basketball Association champion Shaquille O’Neal and three-time U.S. Open winner Kim Clijsters of Belgium.

‘Great News’

“Just woke up to great news!” Clijsters, who was one of Stephens’s three tennis idols growing up along with Serena Williams and her older sister Venus Williams, said on Twitter. “Have been a fan of you for a couple years now! Well done girl!”

Stephens’s best performance in six previous Grand Slam tournaments was reaching the fourth round of the French Open last year. She has never played Azarenka.

The defending champion from Belarus said she was aware of Stephens’s development over the last couple of years.

“Her game has come together,” said Azarenka, who broke through for her first major title in Melbourne 12 months ago.

Stephens, who was introduced to tennis at age 9 by her mother, said the magnitude of her accomplishment in getting to the final four of a Grand Slam only hit her in the locker room.

“I was stretching and I was like, ‘I’m in the semis of a Grand Slam,’” she said. “I was like, ‘Whoa. It wasn’t as hard as I thought.’ But it’s pretty cool.”

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