What. A. Day. pic.twitter.com/XvsMqUdHnK— Sloane Stephens (@SloaneStephens) August 12, 2017
Sloane Stephens is back, but she's not quite the same. The former world No. 11 missed the last 10 months on tour with a left foot injury. Needing surgery at the start of the year, she made her return at Wimbledon, where she fell in the first round.
The American came into Washington as the 2015 champion, but drew No. 1 seed Simona Halep, losing 7-6 (3), 6-0.
"I just have to play a lot of matches. I don't know exactly how long it's going to take me, but eventually I will beat someone," Stephens said afterward. "So I'm not too worried about that. It's going to take a while. I haven't played in a really long time. [It's about] getting that consistency under my belt and playing a lot more."
Thanks to a protected ranking, she's competed in Toronto, where she got that coveted victory over Yulia Putintseva, 6-7 (4), 6-0, 6-4.
Happy to be moving on to the next round. Good night from Toronto ????????— Sloane Stephens (@SloaneStephens) August 8, 2017
She then kept rolling, upsetting another player on a comeback tour, Petra Kvitova, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-2.
Seemingly unaffected by her lack of match play, Stephens stunned world No. 2 Angelique Kerber, 6-2, 6-2 and then overcame Lucie Safarova in three epic sets to reach the semifinals (before falling to Caroline Wozniacki). It marks Stephens' first Premier 5 semifinal appearance, and will boost her ranking to No. 152.
Before the injury, Stephens' last match was the Rio Olympics, back when she was ranked No. 28. Before Toronto, her ranking was sitting at No. 957.
"Obviously when I play, I'm thinking like, Oh yeah it's like the Olympics again and I'm playing great and everything's going well," Stephens said in D.C. "But then I have to remind myself it's been like 10 months and I haven't hit a ball and played a match. So that's a little bit difficult. I just need more matches, more back to back weeks."
Hi guys, It’s been a while since I’ve had an update for you. As you all know, I got a little boo boo in my left foot last summer. Unfortunately, this resulted in foot surgery that will have me sidelined for the next few months. The good news is that surgery was successful and I have already started rehab! Shooting for a summer '17 return! Wish me luck and please root me on, I can't wait to get back on court! I appreciate all of your love, it means the world to me
Ten months away is a long, long time, as her ranking and rustiness has shown. But for Stephens, there's no doubt she's happy to be back, and the tour's happy to have her.
"I was weird not being able to play tennis. Tennis is my whole life..." she said. "It was tough for me but I think six months went by fairly quickly. I'm happy to be back and just hopefully I'm going to work my way back to where I was before."
Follow Nina on Twitter: @ninapantic1