The tennis courts at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey are a much smaller venue than tennis star Sloane Stephens is accustomed to, but she brings Grand Slam-caliber energy nonetheless.
Stephens takes the court on this typically perfect California day in partnership with Mariott Bonvoy, a loyalty rewards program through the hotel group that allows members to partake in unique experiences — like a tennis lesson with a US Open champ.
"I'm all about experiences and being able to experience something that money can't buy — you can't buy an experience like this," Stephens said.
The 25th-ranked female tennis player in the world is at the forefront of changing the game for the next generation — both by uplifting the current and creating a better world for the future.
"I think being in a position that there are more African-American girls playing and younger girls — it's not just Venus and Serena anymore — Osaka, Maddy, myself, Coco, Taylor Townsend — there's so many girls that are actually playing," Stephens said. "I think it's very powerful and inspiring just because there are not that many women in our sport."
Tennis — a traditionally white, upper-class sport, has been taken by storm by legends Serena and Venus Williams, alongside newcomers Stephens, Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff, Madison Keys and Taylor Townsend who are showing the world that the game isn’t so exclusive anymore.
Who could forget the tender moment between Osaka and Gauff at this year's US Open when Osaka honored Gauff and her family after beating her in the third round? The gesture was evidence that the sport continues to grow, providing the next generation of African-American youth with authentic role models.
"I think that takes the sport a lot further than where we are now," Stephens said, on Osaka and Gauff. "I think women supporting women is always a good thing."
Stephens contributes to this growth by giving underserved communities the opportunity to participate in a sport that isn't the most accessible for those with a lack of resources. Succeeding in tennis takes money and the Sloane Stephens Foundation eliminates some common barriers to allow young people to give it a try.
"I think giving them the opportunity and then giving them the environment that makes them feel comfortable and safe, with teachers they love and principals they like and parents being able to be involved — it takes a village," Stephens said. "Giving them that village is what makes them comfortable and makes them want to pursue their dreams."
Dreams that Stephens herself is fighting for every day. Whether it be her sneaker collaboration with Jordan (she was the first female tennis player to have one) or joining women everywhere in the fight for equality and equal pay, Stephens's dreams encompass much more than victories on the court.
"It's very exciting to be alongside the women’s national team — I think people coming together to fight for what they believe in and what they deserve and what they want is very cool."
With the 2020 Olympics on the horizon, Stephens has her sights set on another accolade — "Being a two-time Olympian would be very cool," Stephens said. "It might be Venus and Serena's last Olympics, so that would be super cool, too."