The last time Sloane Stephens played in Birmingham was 2011, and she didn't advance out of the qualifying rounds. (Paul Thomas/Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM, England -- No. 19 Sloane Stephens advanced to the quarterfinals of the Aegon Classic on Thursday with a 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-1 win over compatriot Alison Riske. She'll play No. 36 Zhang Shuai on Friday.
This is the first year Stephens has opted to stay in Europe after the French Open to transition onto the grass courts ahead of Wimbledon.
"It hasn't been bad," she said. "It's not that brutal. It's okay. And obviously being somewhere where they speak English fully everywhere, that's a great thing."
Staying in Europe means being swept up in World Cup fever. Stephens is good friends with U.S. National team striker Jozy Altidore, and she'll be cheering him on from afar even if the joga bonito escapes her.
"He'll probably be the only reason I'm watching," Stephens said. "And then the other times it's just -- I don't know why people like it so much. It's just so much running, and like it's aggressive. I don't know. Like red card, yellow card, all that stuff. It's too much."
Stephens proceeded to ask a British reporter for clarification about how red cards are carried over from game to game. When the reporter quipped the U.S. won't need to worry about the effect of red cards after the group stage -- we get it, we're probably not advancing out of our group -- Stephens, whose hitting partner is English, showed off some of her limited soccer knowledge to rib him right back.