NEW YORK, NY, USA - Sloane Stephens came to press immediately following ATP hotshot Denis Shapovalov. Maybe the Canadian teenager will finally get that bottle of wine she meant to send him at the US Open.
“If I see him at a restaurant, I'll totally send him some stuff,” she joked after her 7-5, 6-1 win over 2015 finalist Roberta Vinci.
So the story goes, Stephens saw Shapovalov - or at least she thought she did - at a Canadian restaurant last February. To commemorate his Davis Cup weekend, she sent the youngster and his family a bottle of wine.
“I started Googling pictures of him and the hair and stuff. I was like, ‘Maybe it's not him,’ she explained during the Rogers Cup in Toronto.
“An hour after the meal, I had someone follow the kid that I thought was Denis, and it wasn't him. I was so disappointed, and everyone was just like, 'You're an idiot.'”
The American is still laughing three weeks later, having reached back-to-back Premier 5 semifinals, first in Canada and then in Cincinnati for the Western & Southern Open. Playing just her fifth tournament since spending a year off the court following foot surgery, Stephens feels refreshed and motivated to bring her US Open Series momentum into the final Grand Slam tournament of 2017.
“I think when you play week in and week out for a couple years in a row, there's a lot of ups and downs, and I think it can wear you out a bit.
“I obviously wasn't happy to get injured. That's not anything that I ever wanted. But it was a good lesson for me. It was a good time to be able to take a break, get my health in order, then reevaluate my whole entire situation, come back a better player and better person.”
Her team has been crucial to keeping her positive, particularly coach Kamau Murray, who was by her side through a 2016 surge that saw her claim a trio of titles at the ASB Classic, Abierto Mexicano Telcel, and Volvo Car Open.
“He's super positive. If anything, it's helped me push through some tough matches because my team has been so strong.”
The pair weren’t in constant contact during her time away, time she spent working as a Tennis Channel analyst, but they stayed in touch by phone, and have been back together since those tentative steps back into tennis.
“When you're not playing, there's not much to talk about. ‘How are the kids? How are the babies?’ That type of stuff. We have more that type of relationship.
“I was sitting in a chair at my first practise. I couldn't run. It was super slow and boring. There was nothing much to do. I could only hit 20 balls the first day, unable to run.
“It was interesting. It was fun. But it was super boring.”
Things got exciting very quickly after early losses at Wimbledon and the Citi Open, earning wins over Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova, and doubles No.1 Lucie Safarova - the latter two twice, in both Toronto and Cincinnati - rocketing her back into the Top 100 from a low of No.957.
“I think my main focus was just to get back to where I was before. Before I got injured, I was playing some really good tennis. I think I knew it was going to take time, but I eventually wanted to get back to where I was.
“I didn't think it would happen, like, in the third tournament. It's better than I could have hoped for. I think I'm fighting my way back, which is great.”
The 24-year-old long struggled to combine consistent tour results with breakout major performances, but has an opportunity to put that to rest in Flushing, where she could next play reigning BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global champion and No.11 seed Dominika Cibulkova.
If the last few weeks are any indication, Stephens will likely bring an ever-more-precise aggression, along with that signature sense of humor.
“La Esquina is my favorite restaurant and then Miss Korea,” she said of her favorite dinner spots in the city before deadpanning, “You should go.”