It was back in September when Sloane Stephens had won the first round of a tournament before the draught and doldrums of the Pandemic and its effect had caught up with the former US Open winner. That was then and this is now.
The flicker of light at the end of a dark, dreary tunnel is starting to brighten for Sloane Stephens. She won her first round of the Miami Open over Oceane Dodin with a 6-7, 6-4, 6-2 victory. "Once she gets moving, she's one of the best in the game, " former player now Tennis Channel commentator Jim Courier explained.
The first set was a squeaker as Stephens looked as though she might win the opener when she led in a few games over the Frenchwoman. But playing a less than aggressive match, Dodin trounced every ball Stephens hit over the net.
She'd brought the game to a tiebreak and spinned her wheels, got her game together to seal the first set from Stephens. This might have been enough to wake up the drowsy top ranked number 50 who capitalized on every ball going into the second set.
Stephens was beginning to show a bit more sizzle as she blasted forehands and backhands at Dodin, oftentimes stunning her strategies and tactics. What was the cause for change? Was it her birthday four days ago that made the difference from four tournaments ago when she'd hit the skids to proclaiming a victory? "Having a supportive team around you can make all the difference," Stephens had said on her Twitter page.
But the steam and energy started coming from within and it looked great! The second set, the Florida native was feeling the right groove to capitalize on may of Dodin's errors and would spin and slice her shots crosscourt surprising the Frenchwoman and taking hold of the set winning 6-4.
It was the deciding set that was a game changer for Stephens and the glory and pride of winning the Miami Open title three years abo must have penetrated her memory to push forward and win the last set when Dodin was proving her dominance was failing and Sloane's was becoming more pronounced.
The year Stephens would hold up Miami Open glass trophy she was no. 3
So many things have interrupted that spirit and expertise that she's had then, especially the Pandemic and living in the bubble while playing some tournaments even without fans.
"It was definitely difficult, but difficult for everyone and not just me," she would tell the Skysports.com media. "We would love to have fans back, but in the safest way possible. Having fans makes a huge difference as it brings life to the game."
The vision to make good of her chances over Dodin were real as she pulled her game together as she knew how and won the last set and the match 6-7, 6-4, 6-2 in front of family and friends. Many players are starting to get their games to together and Sloane Stephens has been used to being in the winner's circle with accumulating 6 career titles in the process.
Things sometimes get difficult to navigate and get to a positive performance. Stephens has dug herself out of many tough and rough patches before. When she would hit her losing streak to eight consecutive matches back three years ago, she reassured the tennis community time and again that "Everything's good. Just relax, everybody. I'll be okay, don't worry."