I’d wanted to do a post about Sloane for a long time and hadn’t because I’ve been too busy pretending Serena is my best friend and workout buddy in my head, but if you manage to beat my imaginary BFF in a match, then, well… that’s as good as any way to get my attention.
Stephens, who upset Serena [and her stans…namely me] in the Australian Open quarterfinals last night, had a weird – and potentially illegal? – upset of her own in the semifinals:
While the sixth-seeded Li romped 6-2, 6-2, playing one of the finest and most composed big matches of her career, the top-seeded Azarenka struggled to keep her cool down the stretch on this steamy day in Melbourne.
Serving for the match against Stephens at 5-3 in the second set, she failed to convert on five match points and was eventually broken when Stephens smacked a forehand winner down the line.
When Azarenka walked to her seat for the change of ends, she wrapped a towel stuffed with ice around her neck and was examined by the W.T.A. primary health care provider Victoria Simpson and by a tournament physician, Dr. Tim Wood. She eventually left the court for further treatment, which meant that Stephens, in her first Grand Slam semifinal, was left waiting to serve to stay in the match.
Azarenka returned to the court six minutes later, and the overall break in play was close to 10 minutes. The time allotted on a normal changeover is 90 seconds.
Stephens, who had upset the tournament favorite Serena Williams in the quarterfinals, proceeded to lose her serve and the match 6-1, 6-4.
Though medical timeouts are permitted by the rules at that stage of a match, the timing of her break in play was immediately questioned by many in the tennis community, who viewed it as potential gamesmanship.
“An absolute travesty,” said Patrick McEnroe, the ESPN analyst who is also head of the United States Tennis Association’s player development program that has helped to back Stephens.
In her post-match interview on court and later with the television network ESPN, Azarenka, the defending champion, did not immediately explain if she was suffering from a legitimate injury or medical condition. But she made it clear that she had been distraught.
She was asked why she had gone off court.
“Well, I almost did the choke of the year right now at 5-3, having so many chances I couldn’t close it out. I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I’m one step away from the final and nerves got into me for sure.” [source]
Stephens has reportedly been nothing but gracious in regards to both her win and her loss, which just makes me that more excited and hopeful for her future. Go for it, Sloane – we’re rooting for you!
Check out a few clips of Sloane in action! You can find her on twitter at @SloaneTweets. Show her some support!