Once Friends, Serena Williams’ Relationship With Sloane Stephens Turns Competitive

Sloane Stephens congratulates Serena Williams during day nine of the BNP Paribas Open tennis at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 17, 2015 in Indian Wells, Calif. (Photo: Julian Finney, Getty Images)
Sloane Stephens congratulates Serena Williams during day nine of the BNP Paribas Open tennis at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 17, 2015 in Indian Wells, Calif.
(Photo: Julian Finney, Getty Images)

Only three times at a Grand Slam has a player beaten both Venus and Serena Williams while making her way through the draw. Monday at the French Open, Sloane Stephens will attempt to become the fourth.

Stephens, 22, defeated Venus Williams in the first round a week ago, and faces top seed and 19-time major winner Serena in the fourth round.

How does Stephens plan on trying to beat the younger Williams sister?

“Play my game,” she said sharply Saturday. When asked for more insight, the world No. 40 offered this: “Just play my game.”

It’s a layered and complicated relationship between Stephens and Serena Williams. Once known as mentor and mentee (and friends), when the two faced off at the Australian Open in 2013 the script took a sharp turn. Stephens upset Williams in a quarterfinal during which Williams sustained an injury. Two days later, Williams sent out a cryptic tweet from her Twitter account.

“I made you,” it read.

Later that year, Stephens was quoted in ESPN the Magazine saying her friendship with Williams was essentially over, bemoaning that Serena no longer followed her on Twitter and that their communication on BlackBerry Messenger had come to a halt.

“She’s not said one word to me, not spoken to me, not said hi, not looked my way, not been in the same room with me since I played her in Australia,” Stephens, then 20, was quoted as saying in the magazine.

But Monday will not be the first time they’ve met since that infamous match in January 2013. They played at the U.S. Open later that year, and twice already in 2015, including at Williams’ return to Indian Wells in March and then again in early May on clay. Williams won all three of those matches.

Asked where their friendship stood now, Williams, 33, had this to say. “I mean, I don’t know. I just feel like, you know, I’m, like I have always said from day one, I always root for her and (like to) see another African-American doing well. I think she’s super cute, so I always root for her.”

Stephens, in March, was terse when speaking about their current relationship.

“A colleague,” Stephens described Williams as in Indian Wells. “There you go. She’s a colleague.”

Colleagues will turn into rivals Monday, however. Saturday Williams, the two-time French Open champion, emerged from a dramatic three-set match against Victoria Azarenka, the former world No. 1, after trailing by a set and 4-2.

It was also a match beset by controversy, as Azarenka, the Belarusian, felt as though she was robbed of a crucial point.

“Everybody knows it,” Azarenka said of the call, which gave Williams a set point in the second set. “But it’s part of the game. Sometimes it happens this way. But I think it wasn’t a fair call.”

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SOURCE: USA Today – Nick McCarvel

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