One-Time American Tennis Phenom Sloane Stephens Is Having A Nightmare Year

Sloane Stephens’ awful 2014 season hit a new low on Wednesday when the 21-year-old lost to Johanna Larsson in the second round of the U.S. Open.

Larsson is ranked 96th in the world. Stephens, who was as high as 11th last year, is currently ranked 24th in the world.

Stephens broke onto the scene with a semifinal run at the 2013 Australian Open that was highlighted by a win over Serena Williams. Some more success at majors, including a Wimbledon quarterfinal, combined with her charisma off-the-court had many anointing her the next face of American tennis.

She got into a beef with Serena Williams. She signed new lucrative deals with Under Armour and the racket-maker Head. She looked on her way to mainstream stardom.

Sloane stephens gifvia MocksessionStephens after upsetting Serena Williams in 2013.

Then 2014 happened.

Her record this year is 20-19. Even at majors — where she has had the most success throughout her career — she hasn’t made it past the fourth round, and lost in the first round of Wimbledon. She hasn’t made it past the quarterfinals of any tournament.

She hired Paul Annacone as coach in January, fired him six months later, and hired Thomas Hogstedt.

Because her talent is so obvious, Stephens’ perplexing early-round losses are often chalked-up to abstract things like “desire.” An Elle magazine profile of her from June captures this point well:

“When Stephens loses, she often does so in a way that can make even her supporters want to tear their hair out. ‘Is that just a costume of casualness that she shows out here?’ fumed [ESPN commentator Mary Carillo] on air, while calling an excruciating Stephens loss to Wozniacki , 6-1, 6-0, at the Sony Open in March. ‘Is she trying to act cool? Is she just not caring enough? All you can hope at this point is that Sloane Stephens has a hard time sleeping tonight.'”

She had a mind-boggling 60 unforced errors in the loss to Larsson, prompting frustration from the tennis world:

It’s far too early to write off Stephens. But tennis is a young woman’s game, and she is firmly out of the “phenom” part of her career at this point.

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