NEW YORK, NY, USA - A disappointed Sloane Stephens came to press shortly after her US Open title defense ended, 6-2, 6-3, at the hands of last year's quarterfinal opponent, Anastasija Sevastova. Voice hoarse from a week-long sinus infection, the American managed a smile when asked to take positives away from the fortnight in New York.
"I could have [lost] in the first round, and that would have been really bad," she said, invoking some colorful imagery in the process. "The fact that I made it to the quarterfinals, played some really good matches, competed as hard as I could, I mean, a lot to be proud of."
Stephens disputed the concept of being a defending champion after her fourth round win over rival Elise Mertens, and stood by her theory on Tuesday.
"Defending a title is very hard, very difficult. If you were defending, you'd be playing the same exact people all over again, which I didn't. I made the most of it this week - or the last 10 days, whatever it was. I can be proud of a lot of things that happened the matches that I played, so I'm not going to dwell on it, and will just keep building.
"There's four more tournaments left. I'm just going to try to play the rest of the season as hard as I can and hopefully have some more good results."
Fresh off her US Open title last fall, the 25-year-old famously didn't win a set in a WTA main draw match until the first round of this year's Australian Open, her first match win coming a month later at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco.
With some distance from that rough string of results, the World No.3 pointed out the obivous opportunity to rebuild her ranking, which will drop after failing to defend the full 2000 of her championship points earned last year.
"Considering last year after this tournament I [lost] for like 10 tournaments in a row, I definitely don't have any points to defend. I'm just looking forward to playing and competing and hopefully keep playing well and keep it going.
"Today doesn't factor into that, but I hope that I can go to Asia and win some more matches and hopefully make the WTA Finals and hopefully keep going as far as I can."
Tuesday's match against Sevastova was their second in Flushing Meadows, with Stephens emerging in a third-set tie-break to ultimately win her first major title.
The two split their next two matches at the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai and Coupe Rogers a few weeks ago in Montréal, but the defending champion simply felt off opening play on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"I think today I just really couldn't get anything to connect. Even when I did have my break opportunities, I just wasn't playing the points well at all. Mentally, physically, I just wasn't connecting. It just was a really tough day.
"The heat doesn't make it any more fun. It's unfortunate that I played first match at 12:00 and it was so extremely hot, but it was hot for both of us. She handled it better. Sometimes it happens like that."
Stephens ended the press conference by crediting the crowd for weathering the heat along with her to support the home favorite in her last match of this year's tournament.
"I thought the crowd was great, honestly. Even when it's not completely full, they are still super loud. I thought the atmosphere was totally fine."