PARIS — All in all, it's been quite a year so far for Sloane Stephens.
She reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open in January by beating Serena Williams. She moved into the top 20 in the WTA rankings. She also went through a four-month stretch in which she failed to win more than two matches in a row at any tournament. And she found herself in a bit of a brouhaha over less-than-flattering comments she made to a reporter about Williams.
After a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3 victory over 92nd-ranked Marina Erakovic on Saturday – helping the U.S. put four women in the French Open's fourth round for the first time since 2004 – the 17th-seeded Stephens was asked what one thing she would change in that span since Australia.
She smiled and answered: "That boys weren't so stupid."
Yes, Stephens is every bit a 20-year-old, one with a vibrant personality and vivid sense of humor – and big goals on a tennis court.
"This is my favorite tournament, so I would really, really, really love to win this tournament," she said. "I would love to win here. I think every Grand Slam, I'm getting closer and closer and closer. You just got to keep plugging away, and hopefully eventually I'll have that big trophy."
A year ago, Stephens became the first American teenager to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros since Williams in 2001.
She made it back by taking the last three games against Erakovic, earning a matchup against defending champion Maria Sharapova for a spot in the quarterfinals.
They have played twice previously, with Sharapova winning both in straight sets, including 6-2, 6-1 on clay at Rome last month.
"It was a couple of weeks ago, but this is a Grand Slam stage. I'm sure she will want to change a few things around and play a better match," Sharapova said. "And you expect that at this type of tournament."
The other Americans joining the No. 1-ranked Williams, who won Friday, and Stephens in the fourth round: 54th-ranked Jamie Hampton, who stunned 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 6-1, 7-6 (7); and 67th-ranked Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who followed up her second-round upset of 2011 French Open champion Li Na by coming back to defeat 118th-ranked qualifier Paula Ormaechea of Argentina 4-6, 6-1, 6-3.
For Hampton, it's her first trip to the round of 16 at a major tournament. For Mattek-Sands, it's only her second in 27 Grand Slam appearances (the other was at Wimbledon in 2008).
There hasn't been a larger group of U.S. women to stick around this long in Paris since 2003, when there were five.
"Impressive, huh?" Hampton said. "Got a unique group, I think, between Serena, obviously the best player in the world, and Bethanie, Sloane, and myself."
Williams faces No. 15 Roberta Vinci on Sunday, while Hampton (against 2008 U.S. Open runner-up Jelena Jankovic), Mattek-Sands (against No. 12 Maria Kirilenko) and Stephens all play Monday.
"I love Grand Slams. Everyone asks me, `Do you think because it's a Grand Slam you want to do better?' Not really. I mean, I've just always had really good results at Grand Slams," Stephens said, then added with a chuckle: "I think maybe it's more money or something. I don't know, more (rankings) points. I'm not sure."
She explained that the French Open is her top-choice tournament for various reasons. The chances to be a tourist and see the Eiffel Tower or the Champs Elysees. A particular flavor of ice cream she only can find in Paris. And the shopping.
Oh, the shopping.
"Like, every day, I'm buying stuff. People don't understand, like, at 20 years old, I can do whatever I want," she said, smiling.
When a reporter wanted to know when that might stop, when the real world might intrude, Stephens said: "I don't live in the real world, so I don't know. But hopefully it never stops. I mean, there are no other 20-years-olds like me. Might be a few, like Miley Cyrus or something, but other than that, I'm pretty much riding solo on this train."
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