- Tennis star Sloane Stephens is starting to feel “old” compared to her peers on the WTA Tour.
- The 2017 US Open champ told Insider young players tell her they “grew up watching” her play.
- The cultural references are different, too, as some athletes don’t even know Beyoncé’s songs.
Sloane Stephens doesn’t consider herself a veteran of the WTA Tour just yet.
But at 29, she’s definitely starting to feel “old” compared to some of her peers.
The 2017 US Open champion said the influx of young talent in women’s tennis — think 18-year-old Coco Gauff and 21-year-old three-time Grand Slam champ Iga Swiatek — has contributed to her realization that she’s “much older than a lot of the girls that are playing” today.
“I still feel young, but to them I’m old because some of them are really players who are like, ‘I grew up watching you!'” Stephens told Insider. “And I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?!'”
She noted that plenty of younger stars approach her at tournaments to say “‘I was 15 when you won the US Open'” or “‘I was 12 when you won the US Open,’ and I’m like, ‘What?!’
“I’m like, ‘Just don’t talk to me,'” she added in jest.
Stephens says all the players on tour are like “one big family” because they “travel every week together” and “see the same people over and over again.” Because of their regular interactions, she’s discovered considerable differences in her understanding of pop culture, as compared to her younger counterparts.
Between the Gen Z crowd and the players who hail from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, Stephens says there’s a considerable amount of “young girls who have never even heard Beyoncé songs — they’re like, ‘Who?’
“I’m like, ‘Have you guys ever heard of Earth, Wind & Fire?'” she said with a laugh. “And they’re like, ‘Is that a restaurant?'”
Most of the time, Stephens responds to such comments with a baffled “Oh my God” and adds “nevermind” for good measure.
Stephens, who turns 30 next March, has plenty of tennis left ahead of her. But with 15 years as a professional under her belt, she’s picked up plenty of wear and tear — and several full-blown injuries — throughout her tenure on the tour.
Now, the 37th-ranked player in the women’s game takes extra care to prepare her body every time she steps out on the court. She does “a lot more manual work with my physio” than she did in the past, and cited using Icy Hot to help alleviate the aches and pains that come with training at the highest levels of sport.
“I warm up my shoulder a lot now before I practice or play, just because it feels a lot better — it feels looser,” Stephens said. “When you’re doing that manual rubbing, it’s better to have something [like Icy Hot] where you’re actually feeling the tingle. And for me, it makes me feel like I’m actually warmed up.”
As Stephens heads into yet another year on tour, she’s optimistic both about her own form and the women’s tennis landscape at large. She cited securing a seed at the Australian Open as one of her major focuses for the start of 2023, adding that she’s aiming “to get back into the top 20 and get back into the top 10” of the WTA rankings.
“I just feel like anything could happen, like it’s anyone’s game at this point,” she said. “There’s a lot happening in our sport in general, but it’s really who takes advantage of it.”
Stephens is intent on being that person. The key to doing so, she says, will be “understanding where I’m at, how I can build, and where I can get better.
“I think now is the time to really step it up and try to make that happen.”