American Sloane Stephens has been clocking in some late nights at the BNP Paribas Open.
“The other night I was eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch for dinner,” said the 21-year-old, laughing. “I think tonight I'm having a regular dinner, so that will be good.”
The No. 17 seed’s evening feast would celebrate her first win in three attempts against former world No. 1 and two-time Indian Wells champion Ana Ivanovic.
“Yeah, it feels good to get that win. I played her in the third round twice at the US Open [and lost], so that was kind of a bummer,” said Stephens, who a year ago lost her first match at the BNP Paribas Open. “I think it was time for me to beat her. Mentally I stayed tough and that's what really mattered in the end.”
That mental aspect has been key for Stephens, a Holy Grail of sorts for the No. 2 American who broke into the Top 20 for the first time in 2013. She has been ranked as high as No. 11, in October 2013.
Her game is, without question, worthy of the biggest stages in tennis. Stephens reached the fourth round or better at all the Grand Slams in 2013 – one of three players to do so – including a semifinal run at the Australian Open.
But critics have sounded off on something missing from her résumé.
Currently ranked No. 18 in the world, Stephens is the only player in the top 20 who has not reached a tour-level final. Her hope is to make that stat a thing of the past in the near future, especially after bringing in well-regarded coach Paul Annacone.
Stephens officially linked up with Annacone (who counts Roger Federer and Pete Sampras as former students) at the start of 2014 after a trial run in the off-season.
“[When] I started working with Paul and I had no idea who he was,” Stephens admitted. “I had to Google him because I had no idea what he even looked like.”
But now his face and working style are both familiar to the big-hitting Sloane, who meets a resurgent Alisa Kleybanova in the fourth round.
“I was expecting [Paul] to make me like super good but I wasn't sure how he was going to do it or what approach he was going to take.”
There has been no magic dust that Annacone has sprinkled on the court, rather slowly developing Stephens into the kind of player she knows she can be – the kind of player to reach finals, if not win big tournaments.
“He's kind of let me do my own thing and added a few things here and there, but definitely worked a lot on the mental side and staying positive and loving what I do and just being happy on the court.”
It would be fitting for Stephens to make a big run here, the tournament often called the fifth Slam in tennis, after her well-publicized success in the majors.
“It's really important to have a good attitude. I mean it's tough at times,” Stephens said. “Sometimes in life, you're like, ‘I don't want to go to the store’ or whatever. You know?
What is next in store for Stephens is for herself to decide, with Annacone by her side.
“There's going to be really great times and there's going to be bad times,” she surmised. “Sometimes you can't control the downs, but the good [times], you work hard for them.”