Sloane Stephens knows what it’s like to be the underdog. In 2017, the tennis star entered the U.S. Open ranked No. 83 — only to go on and win the entire tournament, making history as the lowest-ranked U.S. Open champion ever. It was that glow-up that made Stephens a household name. Winning the U.S. Open turned her into a must-watch favorite among tennis fans and enthusiasts everywhere. However, few knew that prior to her first major win, Stephens had been recovering from a stress fracture in her left foot — making her landmark victory that much more impressive.
Now, two years later, she’s gearing up for the 2019 U.S. Open, slated to kick off August 26. Ahead of the tournament, Stephens made an appearance at Nike’s “Queens of the Future” event in New York City, a pop-up tennis experience designed to celebrate the next generation of athletes. Alongside Stephens, Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, and Maria Sharapova took to the court to train with young players from the United States Tennis Association and New York Junior Tennis & Learning.
Refinery29 caught up with Stephens to chat about why advocating for young female athletes matters, how tennis changed the course of her life, and what she prioritizes when she’s choosing her performance wear.
Why is it important to you to cultivate a love for sports among girls and young women?
A lot of girls grow up thinking there is a certain way they are supposed to be or act. Or that there are certain things they’re supposed to like, and sports isn’t always one of them. It’s definitely getting better, but we still have a lot of room to grow. It’s so important for girls to follow their dreams, whatever they are. For me, that was tennis. I’ve seen how much good sports can do, and how much power and confidence it can bring to young lives, especially for young girls. I also think growing up with the structure of a sport encourages kids to make overall healthier life decisions.
What do you enjoy most about working with Nike on initiatives like “Queens of the Future”?
Something I really love about Nike is they aren’t afraid to challenge the way people think. Their initiatives and campaigns are always pushing boundaries and encouraging people of all ages to be the best version of themselves. That’s something we all need to be reminded of, and I’m just happy I can be a part of it.
What has the game of tennis given you personally? How has the sport shaped your life?
Tennis has given me a life I didn’t even know existed. I’ve been able to travel to some amazing places around the world, with amazing food, and meet some of the best people I know. I’m really lucky, I’m really grateful. Growing up playing tennis definitely taught me what dedication means. You sacrifice a lot of “normal” life experiences. It can sometimes be really lonely, but at the end of the day, I’m doing what I love every day — not everyone can say that.
How would you like to see girls’ and women’s representation in sports change or evolve?
Right now a lot of womens sports come second, whether it’s on TV, with brands, with money. I know this is starting to change. A lot of female athletes are talking about this more and fighting for what they deserve. I want to see that continue. There are a lot of amazing female athletes out there that people have no idea about. But with the right opportunities, that can change very quickly. I’m here for that. I’m excited to see our overall recognition grow.
Describe your personal style. How does your training style differ from your competition style?
My number one priority is always comfort. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good excuse to dress up and take out my heels. But on an everyday basis, I’m a casual, athleisure, sneaker girl. I’ve definitely gotten more into brands and fashion in the last few years though, so I’m having fun experimenting with new styles and seeing what I like. As far as training clothes go, I love a good matching set. I’m big into color coordination. That goes for my competition style, too. Matching outfits are a fun, collaborative effort with Nike to get something breathable, easy to move in, and also cute.
What are your priorities when it comes to performance wear?
If I’m playing somewhere hot, I like to wear lighter colors. It always has to be lightweight and easy to move in. I had a foot injury a few years ago, so I’m very particular about my sneakers. They have to feel 100% good otherwise I won’t wear them. I can’t risk anything like that happening again.
What are your go-to sneakers for all-purpose training, and what do you love most about them?
To be honest, I switch between a few different pairs because I like to make sure my sneakers match my outfit. One of my favorites are my Nike Metcon sneakers — they keep my foot in place so I can do a variety of workouts in them.
What do you think of the street style trend of wearing sneakers with dresses? Any other trends you're loving right now?
Very into this. I personally wear it a lot. I like how versatile it is — it can be something you wear for a casual day shopping or to dinner at night. I’m also really into bike shorts right now. I love an oversized logo shirt with bike shorts and some high top sneakers. Oh, and tie dye! So glad that came back.