Top 5 WTA Surprises of 2017: #3 - Sloane Stephens produces magnificent comeback

Starting this week, VAVEL USA’s Don Han will be counting down the top 5 biggest WTA surprises of 2017. Number three: Sloane Stephens' miraculous comeback from a foot injury which saw her reaching the semifinals in Toronto and Cincinnati before claiming her maiden Grand Slam trophy at the US Open.

Top 5 WTA Surprises of 2017: #3 - Sloane Stephens produces magnificent comeback
Sloane Stephens posing along her US Open trophy | Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images North America

Ever heard of an incredible comeback? We’ve seen many of those, but Sloane Stephens’ comeback was one of a kind. It may sound cliché, but the American experienced one of the best comebacks in sporting history, not only in tennis but sports as a general. Who would have expected, a player with a career-high ranking of 11 and her biggest title being a Premier event, would return from a career-threatening foot injury, and claim her first-ever Major title! From being unable to walk in April, from losing her first two matches of her comeback, from being ranked 957th in July. What a miraculous journey it has been for Stephens, who had a special August to remember this year.

Where it all started

Nothing seemed to be going right for Stephens at the start of her comeback. She was walking around in a cast back in April and was even working as a correspondent for Tennis Channel at the Volvo Car Open during her layoff. After opening-round exits to Alison Riske and Simona Halep at the Wimbledon Championships and Citi Open respectively, Stephens entered the Rogers Cup on a Protected Ranking.

Sloane Stephens in action at the Rogers Cup, where she beat several quality opponents to reach the last four | Photo: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images North America
Sloane Stephens in action at the Rogers Cup, where she beat several quality opponents to reach the last four | Photo: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images North America

Unexpected run in Toronto

After waiting for a lengthy period of time, Stephens finally earned the first win of her comeback as she triumphed over then-world number 48 Yulia Putintseva in a tight three-setter which saw the American serve a bagel in the process. From being down a set against the Kazakh and one set away from a third consecutive defeat, who would have expected Stephens to achieve what she did? Her run continued after shocking 14th seed and fellow comeback kid Petra Kvitova in another encounter which went the distance before thrashing world number three Angelique Kerber 6-2, 6-2 in under an hour of play. A win over the 41st-ranked Lucie Safarova followed but her surprise run ended in the hands of Caroline Wozniacki ultimately.

Consecutive semifinal appearances

Stephens claimed back-to-back wins over Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova at the Western and Southern Open, and coincidentally, the American beat both Czechs in Toronto as well. Their last encounters went the distance but this time, Stephens put up an even better performance and triumphed in straight sets on both occasions.

Stephens' impressive run continued in Cincinnati, reaching her second consecutive semifinal | Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America
Stephens' impressive run continued in Cincinnati, reaching her second consecutive semifinal | Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America

A confidence-boosting win over the in-form Ekaterina Makarova soon ensued, before another good win over Julia Goerges on the same day due to rain affecting play earlier. Both Makarova and Goerges were the finalists of the Citi Open as well. However, she was headed for yet another semifinal exit as soon-to-be world number one Simona Halep was just too strong for her as the American soon ran out of steam, falling 2-6, 1-6.

US Open success and glory

However, it was later revealed that the best was yet to come. The two weeks in Toronto and Cincinnati was so good that it brought Stephens up to the 83rd position in the rankings despite being ranked 957th weeks ago. The US Open was even better. Being handed an extremely tough draw, Stephens upset defending quarterfinalist and former finalist Roberta Vinci in the opening round before shocking Dominika Cibulkova in a tight three-setter.

Excellent wins over Ashleigh Barty and Julia Goerges followed before the American came out of nowhere and sealed a place in her second-ever Grand Slam semifinal with a thrilling win over Anastasija Sevastova in the quarterfinals. Facing the legendary Venus Williams in the last four, the streak of upsets continued for Stephens as she prevailed 7-5 in the decider, progressing to her first-ever Major final. Who would have anticipated this? Sloane Stephens is now in a Grand Slam final after returning from a serious foot injury.

Sloane Stephens celebrating a point won during the US Open final | Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America
Sloane Stephens celebrating a point won during the US Open final | Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America

Facing fellow final debutant and good friend Madison Keys, both players were affected by nerves but it was her compatriot who crumbled mentally and physically. Keys seemed to be having troubles with her wrist, and also lost eight straight games from 3-4 down, with Stephens putting in a flawless performance and edged ahead for her first Major title. In July, if someone told you that Sloane Stephens would be a Grand Slam champion, no one would have believed it. Or rather, no one would have expected Stephens to win a Major even during the previous years when she was healthy. But yet, she did it.

Arguably one of the biggest surprises on the WTA tour this year, it has been an incredible run for Sloane Stephens. Even though she was unable to follow up her results, the American was able to complete what so many players couldn’t: win a Grand Slam. Especially after a career-threatening foot injury, no one thought Stephens could return to her best once again. However, people would have to take back their words as the US Open champion went against the odds and proved them wrong. Never give up when pursuing your dreams even when met with multiple difficulties along the way, and Stephens is just a perfect example of this.

The moment of truth: Sloane Stephens wins the US Open ranked 83rd in the world | Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America
The moment of truth: Sloane Stephens wins the US Open ranked 83rd in the world | Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America