Sloane Stephens made history when she won the U.S. Open on Saturday, and clinching the championship in Flushing, Queens, was especially emotional for the 24-year-old — because it’s the very same place where she learned of her father’s death eight years earlier.
“I was sitting right in front of the transportation tent, and my sister called me and was like, ‘Dad died last night in a car accident,’ ” Stephens told Sports Illustrated for this week’s cover story. “I was hysterical.”
Her father, former New England Patriots running back John Stephens, died in a car accident in 2009. According to SI, her parents divorced when she was a baby, and Stephens never met her father until she was 13.
Stephens told the publication that before her finals victory she didn’t think she’d ever be able to reach her best at Arthur Ashe Stadium, “because it was just filled with so many emotions — and not good ones.”
“If someone told me when my dad died that I would end up winning the U.S. Open years later, I would’ve been, like, ‘You’re crazy.’ It is crazy,” she said. “But I’ve had so many great moments here, and so many sad moments here, that winning, here, makes it even more special.”
Her trip to the stadium proved to be victorious. She beat out Madison Keys, 6-3, 6-0, to take home the title on Saturday. The match-up was the first major final ever contested by two black players — except Venus and Serena Williams, of course.
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Stephens has had a meteoric rise in recent months, and comes as the Florida native’s rank dropped to No. 957 at the beginning of the summer season following an injury. She entered the U.S. Open as the No. 83-ranked player, making the biggest ranking jump of any player during that time frame.
Now, the champion tells SI her setbacks made her victory even sweeter.
“[It showed that] I’m a real fighter, that I have a lot of grit,” she said. “Surprising.”