Sloane Stephens calls the French Open – the second Grand Slam of the tennis season – one of her favorite events of the year, and it’s not hard to understand why: The 30-year-old Stephens owns 32 victories on the “terre battue” in Paris, where she finished runner-up in 2018. The current world No. 35 looks to increase that number when she faces off against No. 16 Karolina Pliskova in first-round action, which begins Sunday.
Roland-Garros is Stephens’ most successful major in terms of match wins at 32-11. Her record at the U.S. Open, where she won the title in 2017, currently stands at 24-10, while she’s 14-11 at Wimbledon. She stands 12-11 at the Australian Open, where she fell in the first round earlier this year to Russia’s Anastasia Potapova.
The Florida native arrives in Paris with 11 events in 2023 under her belt, including her first WTA 125 title at the L’Open 35 de Saint Malo earlier in May. Stephens entered the tournament last-minute following a first-round loss at the Madrid Open, but she rebounded by dropping just one set in four matches en route to the clay-court final, which she won in straight sets over Greet Minnen on May 7.
On Her Turf sat down with Stephens ahead of the 2023 French Open to talk about a wide range of topics including Rolland-Garros, turning 30, mental health advocacy, her favorite self-care practices, freezing her eggs and more.
You can watch the 2023 French Open on NBC, the Tennis Channel and Peacock. Click here for the full schedule.
This Q+A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
On Her Turf: Let’s start with some general takeaways… What are your thoughts on your season so far?
Sloane Stephens: Definitely started off slow, but we’ve been here before, so not too worried. …I was able to go play in St. Malo, which was great, because I needed to get a bunch of matches, and I was able to pick up a title there, which was really nice. Clay-court season is my favorite season, so I’m really happy to be able to play a lot of matches at the beginning (of the season). … It’s been a tough start this season. I haven’t done as well as I would have liked to, but again, that’s just tennis. And I think now I’ve kind of picked up some momentum. And yeah, playing in my favorite season of the year, the clay-court season is always nice. And being able to win matches and collect a lot of points is always good. So just been trying to keep the momentum going from here.
OHT: Regarding what you just said – “It’s just tennis” – Could you talk a little more about your perspective, dealing with that up-and-down start to a season? Knowing it’s a long season, how do you keep yourself from judging your whole year based on how it started?
Stephens: I think having perspective instead of over-analyzing. Only one person can win every week, right? … It’s all about finding that balance: It’s not getting overly happy and joyous when you’re winning and not getting so depressed that you want to quit tennis when it’s not going well. … And part of it is managing the workload and managing the travel and the logistics. You know, you don’t work a nine-to-five (job), you don’t go into work every day. And it’s the same thing for everyone. Like everyone’s routines are messed up, everyone’s schedule is different. Everyone’s losing their bags, everyone’s flights are super expensive. There’s all of these things that go into it that you really can’t get so upset about, because it’s happening to everyone. Everyone’s managing it, and whoever is managing the very best is probably the No. 1 player in the world. And there can be someone who’s managing really great and they’re No. 50 in the world. So it’s all about perspective.
OHT: Speaking of managing stress, can you talk about how wearing fitness technology (Stephens has been a brand ambassador for WHOOP since 2021) has helped you, and how do you incorporate it into your routine?
Stephens: I think for myself, as a professional athlete, it really helps you gauge where your body is in its recovery and how it’s recovering. WHOOP actually gives you the data … and I think that’s where the stress monitor comes in. Because like I said, like, you can already see like if your body’s recovering or not recovering, and then on top of it, how much stress are you putting on your body with a 10-percent recovery day? What does that look like? Are you gonna get injured? Are you gonna get sick? Are you going to be a couch potato? For myself, I know if I have two days that are in the red and I’m going really hard, I’m gonna have three days where I’m like, “Don’t call me; I’m not going to be able to do anything.” And before, I never really knew why that was happening, so I’m able to just be way more alert and attentive to like what my body needs, especially now that I’ve gotten older. I wish I had this when I was 21, because then I’d be the hero of self-care and recovery and HRV (heart rate variability) and monitoring — all of these things. Whereas now I’m old, and it really does make a difference. I really actually need to be paying attention to these things.
OHT: Speaking of self-care… what are some of your current self-care practices and how did it feel to hit the milestone of turning 30 this year (which by the way is not old!)?
Stephens: It’s been totally fine. I don’t feel any different at all, really, which is good. I think in terms of “old,” I’m definitely not old, but in tennis terms I am. There are girls on tour who are 17 and 16, and I don’t even remember what it was like when I was 16 playing on the tour — it was just so long ago. …My self-care journey has changed as I’ve gotten older, as I’ve experienced more things, as I’ve traveled the world. When I get to a new city and I’m needing to relax, I’ll try to find where can I get a facial? Where can I get my nails done? I like to do things alone — I don’t know why, I think it’s just part of being a tennis player. I’m used to having to do things alone. So for me, I can take my headphones and my show and go get my nails done, go have lunch by myself, all of those things. To me, that’s very relaxing, and I love it. …But being on the road — so much has really changed how I view self-care. I’ve definitely made it my mission to be more active when I’m on the road, to implement those things I love throughout my day and then be more active in terms of finding places to get facials or get my hair done and just kind of going for it.
OHT: I want to ask about your mom: She was a standout collegiate athlete (Sybil Smith was an All-American swimmer at Boston University) and a Harvard-educated psychologist. How has she informed your approach to self-care and mental health as a professional athlete?
Stephens: My mom, she’s so freakin’ cool. She’s so awesome. We actually do a lot of (self-care) stuff together. We really look forward to like doing those things and having self-care days. …But I think she also knows how important it is to have that time to take care of yourself and have that time alone, too, to recharge and regroup. She’s encouraged me both ways, just because she knows how helpful it can be.
OHT: You mentioned that you like doing things alone when you’re on the road, but I read in a recent article where you note that being a professional tennis player can be very lonely and can take a toll on your mental health, which is a topic you regularly address. Why is it important to you address mental health awareness and where does that comfort level talking about it come from?
Stephens: I would definitely say my mom. I’ve obviously been in therapy pretty much in my whole life, so I’m very open with that. And I think being a tennis player, traveling the world, it’s a very unique experience. I travel with a coach, a physio, sometimes a friend, so it’s like I’m never truly alone. …But during COVID, we weren’t allowed to leave our rooms for probably a better part of a year and a half, and I think that’s when the loneliness came in. All through COVID I was seeing a therapist and post COVID, still continuing to see my therapist, and really just finding the balance in my life. That makes the most sense for me.
OHT: It also appears that you have a good relationship with your followers on social media. In particular, it’s been really interesting to follow your journey through freezing your eggs and talking about your reproductive health. Why has that been important for you to engage in that conversation publicly?
Stephens: I’ve always been scared of childbirth, and since I was like 18, I’ve thought I’m definitely having a surrogate, like, this is what I’m putting my mind to, I’m going to freeze my eggs. And now, as I’ve gotten older and have read more about it, and really educated myself about the maternal mortality rate for black women – it’s a very scary thing. For me, egg freezing is something that I’ve always wanted to do, I’ve always been very interested in it, and now I get to share (what I’ve learned). There are so many girls on the tour who are interested. But for a female tennis player, the process takes like three weeks, which is a bit long. You know, men are free to do whatever they want, whenever they want. They don’t have to stop working. Their wives are at home, they’re having babies, and a lot of them now – some younger than me — bring their kids to the tournaments. And I’m like, “I’m 30, I have no kids.” And I totally envisioned having a baby at 27 or 28 and living a normal life. But for a professional tennis player, it’s not ideal. It’s just not possible. We do have a lot of moms on tour, which is the best. It’s just very complicated. The reproductive system is a very complicated thing … I’m on the player council, so I’m very invested in the girls on tour and their health and how they take care of themselves, and this was just something that fits into that — being able to freeze your eggs. Like Michelle Obama said the recently, “You can have it all, just not at the same time.”
OHT: Looking ahead to the 50th anniversary of the WTA this year, what are your thoughts as the organization celebrates this milestone?
Stephens: The WTA has come a long way, and it’s something I’ve been really proud to be a part of. I think obviously when Billie (Jean King) started the tour 50 years ago, I’m sure she didn’t think it would look like what it looks like now. So just being able to be a part of something like that, and I think we all want to leave the tour and tennis better than we found it. There are more initiatives, the pension program is better, there’s free egg freezing, and all of the other things that we want on our tour – those things are possible and we’re able to make that happen.