The Sloane Stephens enigma- why hasn’t Stephens won another Grand Slam title?

leyeaduloju in Features 23 Mar 2020
Sloane Stephens (PA Sport)

Sloane Stephens scored a sensational US Open triumph in 2017, and went on to peak at No. 3 in the world in 2018, but why hasn’t the talented American added another Slam to her major count?

Stephens is a bit of an enigma. Before her US Open triumph, she had always been one of the finest young players on the tour, beating Serena Williams en route the Australian Open semi-finals back in 2013, and peaking at No. 11 in the rankings in the same season.

However, she didn’t quite kick on from there, and failed to make a major quarter final between 2014 and 2016. She ended two of those three seasons outside the world’s top-30.

A foot injury kept her away from the tour between August 2016 and July 2017, with her ranking plummeting outside the top-900 as a result. Then the Stephens rollercoaster took its most famous turn.

Five tournaments into her comeback, the American was US Open champion. She suffered opening round exits at Wimbledon and Washington in the first two matches of her return to the tour, but she served notice of what was to come by reaching semi-finals in Montreal and Cincinnati, before finishing off a remarkable American fall by winning the US Open title- her first and only major till date.

The American then went into an extended post-US Open hangover, failing to win another match until February of the next season. When she eventually got through that slump, she did put together a very good 2018, winning a first Premier Mandatory title in Miami and reaching finals at Roland Garros, Montreal and the WTA Finals in Singapore, and making the quarter finals in her US Open title defence.

She ended 2018 at No. 6 in the world and was at No. 3 in February 2019, but she has severely underperformed since then. The 27-year-old made just one semi-final throughout 2019, in Madrid, finishing the year at No. 25, and she hasn’t got going at all in 2020, opening with four straight defeats and winning just one of her first five matches.

Sloane Stephens has won just one match in 2020 (PA Sport)

So what exactly has happened to Sloane Stephens? Why has she not been able to win another major?

Mind you, Stephens hasn’t been absolutely terrible since that US Open triumph- she did make a French Open final, and a couple of other major quarter finals- but a lot more was expected after her exploits at Flushing Meadows.

I do not think she is the most ruthless player on the tour, and when things are not going too well, she doesn’t really have an immediate response. Results continues to drift away until she somehow suddenly rediscovers some form.

She does have a history of elaborate performance swings, but her current poor form has been on for a bit too long. There is a clear lack of confidence in her game at the moment, and she doesn’t appear to know how to get out of it.

It is important  to note is that Stephens competes in an extremely tough and open WTA Tour, where multiple Grand Slam champions have become a rarity in recent times.

The American remains one of the most talented players on the tour- one of the very few that can combine decent power with terrific athleticism and defence. On her day, she has the skillset to take down anyone in the game, but instead of dragging the biggest prizes with Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep, she is lodged outdide the top-30, and has been losing to Liudmila Samsonova, Arina Rodionova, Shuai Zhang, Renata Zuruzua and Leylah Fernandez in 2020.

Given her history of rollercoasters, that could be the cue that another big result is just around the corner!