NEW YORK —
Three seeded men exited during Monday’s afternoon session: No. 11 Kei Nishikori, No. 27 Fernando Verdasco and No. 30 Ernests Gulbis.
Sloane Stephens, a 20-year-old American seeded 15th, very nearly was on the list of losers, dropping the opening set, then trailing 4-2 in the third and 3-1 in the closing tiebreaker, before coming back to edge 110th-ranked Mandy Minella of Luxembourg 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
Stephens heard plenty of support from the crowd, of course. She also picked out one particular voice in the stands that tried to remind her of at least one reason to be motivated.
“Someone yelled to me, ‘If you don’t get it together, this lady is going to take your second round prize money!’ I was like, ‘Oh, God,”’ Stephens recounted.
She’s one of a crop of young women from the U.S. seen as potential successors to the Williams sisters as tennis standard-bearers for the country; the 19 Americans in the main draw are the most at a Grand Slam tournament in seven years.
By reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open in January, then the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, Stephens only increased expectations — particularly when competing on home turf.
“There’s more eyes on me,” said Stephens, who is based in Coral Springs, Fla. “Just the whole being here at the U.S. Open is a bit overwhelming. Literally everywhere you go, every single person knows who you are, as opposed to when you’re at the French Open or when you’re at Wimbledon.”
Venus Williams has spent 1 1/2 decades in the spotlight, from the moment she showed up at Flushing Meadows in 1997 as a 17-year-old with white beads clackety-clacking in her braids and made it all the way to the title match. She won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2000 and 2001, then added three more titles at the All England Club in 2005, 2007 and 2008.