CINCINNATI, OH, USA - For 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, the prescription couldn't be clearer at the Western & Southern Open, the last big tournament before the tour turns to Flushing Meadows.
"At this point, I just need to win a match," she said during her pre-tournament press conference. "All of the other things I’d normally be focusing on are out the window because I just need to feel comfortable and able to compete. Keeping it simple moving forward is what’s best for me, and I’m going to do my best with that."
Stephens has played solid tennis at the last two majors, twice falling to nemesis Johanna Konta, but back-to-back opening round losses at the Citi Open and Rogers Cup leave the No.8 seed continuing to deal with the inconsistency that has plagued her 2019 season.
"It’s been a bumpy season, to say the least, and just being home is more comfortable, easier for me. I’m just trying to manage, but I’m happy to be home. It’s a lot easier than to be in Europe, struggling."
It was in Europe that she first paired with Sven Groeneveld, longtime coach to five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova, and together, the two enjoyed immediate success, with Stephens reaching the Mutua Madrid Open semifinals.
With her best tennis seemingly within her grasp, the American has found perspective on what could have been a frustrating follow-up to a season that saw her win the Miami Open, and finish runner-up at both Roland Garros and the WTA Finals.
"Tennis is a funky sport. One week can be whatever and then next week you win a Premier and it’s like, ‘OK, everything’s great again,’ and it’s like none of that ever happened. Managing the downs and being ready to have that up again is most important, but managing a bumpy season has been the craziest part of this year."
Stephens will open her Cincinnati campaign against Yulia Putintseva, the player against whom she began her 2017 renaissance; winless to that point in her comeback from foot surgery, she rallied from a set down against Putintseva to reach the Rogers Cup semifinals, repeat the feat at the Western & Southern Open, and capture her maiden major title in New York.
Since then, Putintseva has won their last two meetings, including a three-setter to start the season at the Sydney International.
"Going into the US Open, another Grand Slam, it’s a whole other ball game because you have to use your experience to get through. That’s what I’m doing now, just getting prepared for that."
Catching up on the court, she's found herself catching up fiancé Jozy Altidore on The Blacklist off of it.
"I’m three seasons ahead of him, so when I was home, he was catching up and I watched it with him. They’re episodes I’ve already seen, and so I was walking him through the whole show because he’s one of those people who asks 5000 questions during the show.
"I’m mostly on my phone doing other things, look up and know what’s about to happen. He’ll be like ‘What just happened?’ and I’m like ‘They died.’ When you already know what’s going to happen, there's less stress involved."
Stephens next plays Putintseva on Tuesday.