NEW YORK – Let’s rewind to August 2016. Following a first-round loss to Eugenie Bouchard at the Rio Olympics, then-No. 25-ranked Sloane Stephens announced her withdrawal from the 2016 U.S. Open, citing a left foot injury.
The next 11 months would prove to be a rollercoaster for the 24-year-old American, such as it is when an athlete embarks on the lengthy, grueling road to recovery in the wake of a serious injury. After undergoing foot surgery to repair a stress fracture in January and a stint as a commentator and contributing reporter for Tennis Channel during Indian Wells, Miami and Charleston, Stephens progressed from a “peg leg” to a walking boot, and then some modified on-court drills. Finally, on July 4, Stephens made her return to competition at Wimbledon, losing in the first round in straight sets to fellow American Alison Riske. But that loss has proven to be the spark that ignited Stephens’s meteoric rise this summer.
During her long injury layoff, Stephens’ ranking dropped as low as No. 957, before the start of the summer hardcourt season. After losing in the first round to Simona Halep at the Citi Open on Aug. 1, Stephens went on an 8-2 run through two tournaments, in Toronto and Cincinnati, losing in the semifinals in both to Caroline Wozniacki and Halep, respectively. As she kept winning her ranking kept rising, and Stephens entered the U.S. Open as the No. 83-ranked player, making the biggest ranking jump of any player during that time frame.
Through five rounds in New York, Stephens has taken out Roberta Vinci, Dominika Cibulkova, Ash Barty, Julia Goerges and, on Tuesday, No. 16-seed Anastasija Sevastova in a thrilling three-set match in the quarterfinals. Now into her first U.S. Open semifinal, Stephens has matched her best Grand Slam result from the 2013 Australian Open.
“Obviously before or when I started playing again at Wimbledon and D.C., I didn't expect much,” Stephens said this week at the U.S. Open. “I was just playing and having fun, having a good time. I'm still playing and having a good time. That's really all there is to it.”
By advancing to the semifinals, Stephens is project to climb into the WTA top 35 and can reach as high as No. 21 by reaching the final and as high as No. 15 by winning the title.
Climbing 923 spots in one month? Now that’s an impressive comeback. And it’s not over yet, as Stephens looks to carry on her resurgent summer in the U.S. Open semifinals, against either Venus Williams or Petra Kvitova, on Thursday.