Stephens ‘must do better’ after latest Dubai defeat

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Knocked out: Stephens lost to Safarova in straight sets.

Sloane Stephens’ dismal run in the Middle East continued and the young American admits she needs to find a way to perform better in Premier-level events like Doha and Dubai next year.

The world No18 has won only one match in four appearances in Dubai and Doha combined, and following her opening round 6-3, 7-5 loss to Lucie Safarova yesterday, Stephens voiced her frustration with her situation.

“I think it's just something I need to work on. I obviously need next year to try to do better here, and that's what I need to do,”  said the American No2.

Stephens recently hired Paul Annacone, the former coach of Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, to help her improve her game. The 20-year-old believes Annacone has a lot to offer and said he was “the right choice” for her.

But she also admitted she was still adapting to her life as a top-20 player who attracts a lot of media attention.

She had her breakthrough almost a year ago when she upset Serena Williams en route to the Australian Open semi-finals and was a hot topic throughout 2013, sometimes for her tennis and other times for some controversial comments she allegedly said regarding Williams.

Stephens says she thinks her results last year would have been the same, with or without the off-court drama.

“Last year was a really long year. It was tough towards the end, but I came through like a champ, and I think I did pretty well,” she said.

“I think being obviously American, it's a much bigger deal because sports is really big in the US, and either way I think the whole thing was a learning experience and it was what it was.”

When asked whether she finds herself in a different position this year, compared to 12 months ago, the Florida-native added: “It's still the same attention. It's still very taxing, I'd say. Actually, this year and last year I'm in pretty much the same exact place. It's not that bad. It's still building, and hopefully keep improving.”

Stephens is the second-youngest player in the top-20, which mostly consists of players that are from an older generation. She was without Annacone these couple of weeks in Doha and Dubai and concedes that life as a professional tennis player can be harsh at times.

“It's definitely lonely,” said Stephens. “Obviously it's long weeks, a long time away from home, but I think being younger, maybe, I don't know, but I think everyone kind of keeps to themselves anyway.

“My life is good. I have a really good life. Some days, you're like ‘my life sucks’, but it could be way different and I could be in a completely different situation. I'm just thankful for everything that I have.”

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WIN! Toss the coin at the men's Dubai Championship QF

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Chance of a lifetime: You could be tossing the coin and posing for pictures with players like Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer!

The 2014 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship is now in full swing with the world’s best players descending on the Aviation Club.

It's currently the women's time to shine, and soon the best in the men's event will follow, which will include the likes of defending champion and world No2 Novak Djokovic, and 14-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.

And Sport360°, in association with Alpari UK –  the 'Official Online Forex Trading Partner' for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship 2014, is giving you the chance to walk out onto Centre Court and toss the coin at the Men’s Quarter Final on Thursday, February 27!

The lucky winner will also get their picture taken with the players, and will receive two tickets to the match.

All you have to do is correctly answer the question below to be in the running. The competition is open until 5pm on Tuesday, February 25.

Good luck!

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Petra Kvitova interview: Proving nice guys don’t finish last

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On top: Kvitova beat Sara Errani to win in Dubai in 2013.

Tennis players are on the receiving end of lots of criticism throughout their careers. They’re told they are not strong enough, not fast enough, not mentally tough enough…

For Petra Kvitova, the Czech left-hander, it was a case of being told, while growing up, that she was too nice to be a tennis star. Little did they know that the nice girl from Bilovec – a small town outside Fulnek in the east of the Czech Republic – would become Wimbledon champion with one of the most powerful games on tour. 

A quick glance at her third-set tie-break win over Venus Williams in a very vocal second round in Doha last week reveals a fierce competitor willing to snatch victory from the teeth of her opponent. After all, Kvitova was down 1-4 in the final set before she successfully turned things around. 

The last adjective Williams would use to describe the world No6 last week is “nice”.

But Kvitova insists she is both a good-natured, quiet person off the court and a ruthless power-hitter on it.

“When I was playing tennis as a child, I was 15, 16, and everybody told me and my father that I’m too nice for the tennis,” Kvitova told Sport360° ahead of her trip to Dubai, where she is defending her crown.

“It’s weird but always when I step on the court, I’m not like angry at the opponent or something, but I just really want to win. It’s something that you have inside, the motivation, the fight, and you are trying to never give up. I think that in me, as a person, there’s totally different two sides but the way I see it, it’s working.”

It certainly is. At 23 years of age, Kvitova has picked up 11 titles – including a Grand Slam, has led the Czech team twice to Fed Cup titles in 2011 and 2012, and has finished each of the last three seasons ranked inside the world’s top eight.

But things have been far from plain sailing for Kvitova on tour.

As an asthmatic, she often suffers from breathing problems while playing in certain locations, and she’s also had her fair share of mental lapses on court – most recently in Melbourne, where she crashed out of the Australian Open in the first round to the unheralded Luksika Kumkhum, a Thai player ranked No88 at the time.

“After my loss in Australia, it was really tough to get over the match. I had big expectations of my Australian Open and always when I have expectations I always play badly,” Kvitova admitted.

“So I know that [in the future] I will have to be more relaxed.

“Then I went home, I was practicing and I asked for wildcard in Paris but I was sick so I pulled out and I couldn’t play Fed Cup as well, so now I’m watching the live score which is really weird because it’s the first time I don’t play Fed Cup. For me it’s very hard.

“Now I came here [to the Middle East] and I’m quite healthy. Of course I lost some fitness when I didn’t play, I have a bit of a cold but it’s normal.”

Still in search for that elusive second Grand Slam, Kvitova can find some inspiration from Li Na’s Australian Open triumph in Melbourne last month. Like Kvitova, the Chinese had won her first major in 2011, and it took Li Na a further two-and-a-half years to silence her doubters and pick up another Grand Slam trophy.

When asked whether she looks at the achievements of other players like Li Na to draw inspiration and motivation for herself, Kvitova said: “I do. I probably more like seeing the players who have good friendships with me and Li Na is great. I like her so much so I was really happy for her that she won.

“We both won a Grand Slam in 2011 so for me it’s nice to see her winning again and maybe for me it can give me some new motivation and I can still do it. She is a little bit older than me but she’s great and we can see how the hard work is helping on the court.”

It’s a fact that the average age of players at the top of the sport has been increasing, and many players like Serena Williams and Li Na, who are in their 30s, have been enjoying lots of success recently. Venus is 10 years older than Kvitova and the American pushed her all the way to a final set tiebreak in both of their last two meetings.

Kvitova’s boyfriend, Radek Stepanek, is 35 and remains a top- 50 player competing on the ATP World Tour. So does she see herself playing into her 30s?

“Now it’s quite easy to say ‘no’. But I can imagine when I’m 30 and just say ‘no I don’t want to continue anymore’ I think it’s going to be a tough decision and I can imagine that I’m going to be maybe same as Venus, because I like to play and it’s going to be hard to say no. I totally understand her but who knows how it’s going to be with me,” she says.

Fact file

2008
Reached the fourth round of Roland Garros on her Grand Slam main draw debut 2009 Won first WTA title in Hobart.
Reached the fourth round of the US Open upsetting the then world No1 Dinara Safina en route

2010
Made her first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon, lost to Serena Williams.
Was named WTA Newcomer of the Year 

2011
Won her first and only Grand Slam title at Wimbledon
Became the first Grand Slam tournament winner, male or female, to be born in the 1990s
Reached a career-high ranking of No2 in October
Won the WTA year-end Championships and the Fed Cup 

2012
Made the fourth round or better in all four majors, including semi-finals in Melbourne and Paris 
Won the Fed Cup for a second straight year

2013
Won two titles in Dubai and Tokyo

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