American Stephens focused on Australian Open despite personal loss

  • Tennis
  • Saturday, 06 Feb 2021

FILE PHOTO: Aug 23, 2020; Flushing Meadows, New York, USA; Sloane Stephens (USA) hits the ball against Caroline Garcia (FRA) during the Western & Southern Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) - Sloane Stephens is not giving up hopes of adding a second Grand Slam title to her 2017 U.S. Open when she begins her campaign at the Australian Open next week, despite the American losing three members of her family recently.

The 27-year-old revealed last month on Twitter that she had lost her grandmother and aunt within weeks of each other to the novel coronavirus, leading to an outpouring of condolence messages from her fans. A week later, the Florida resident said her grandfather had also passed away.

"I'm blessed with the most supportive family. They cheer for me in everything that I do, and my successes are their successes," Stephens told Reuters in an email interview from Melbourne.

"My grandparents were my biggest fans and absolutely obsessed with tennis. I carry their love with me every day."

Former world number three Stephens was also one of the 72 players confined to their hotel rooms for two weeks after passengers on three charter flights taking them to Australia tested positive for COVID-19.

The rest of the athletes were allowed five hours each day outside to train for the year's first Grand Slam.

"I try to focus on what I can control," said Stephens.

"As a member of the WTA Players' Council, I've been involved in the conversations about what the return to play looks like and how to manage all the different scenarios, so I respect what needs to be done to keep people safe."

The United States has the highest number of novel coronavirus cases in the world with over 454,200 deaths, while Australia has recorded fewer than 29,000 infections and 909 deaths so far.

Authorities in Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, have approved 30,000 fans per day at the Australian Open site, or about 50% capacity.

"It's great to see how things are progressing in Australia and it gives me hope that we can return to normal," said Stephens, whose ranking has dropped to 40th and will open her Australian Open campaign against 26th seed Yulia Putintseva.

"I'm looking forward to getting back on court. I worked hard this off-season. Truly anything can happen on the court, and that's why we go to work every day. There is so much that goes into competing and winning at this level.

"I want to win every tournament I enter, and that's why I'm here."

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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