NEW HAVEN >> Anne Worcester got a little nervous while briefing WTA Tour star Sloane Stephens over a smoothie about her upcoming free tennis clinic for 350 New Haven-area third-graders on Tuesday morning.
“Three hundred-fifty third-graders? I thought she was gonna be daunted by that,” Worcester admitted.
Stephens was anything but daunted. Turns out, she runs an after-school tennis program for over 300 kids out in Compton, California.
“I’m used to this,” she told Worcester. “I got this.”
The Connecticut Open also got Sloane Stephens on Tuesday. Worcester, the tournament director, announced that Stephens is the event’s second commitment, following defending champ Agnieszka Radwanska, who committed last month. Stephens, 24, is currently rehabbing from surgery she had in January for a stress fracture in her left foot. The injury caused her to withdraw from last year’s Connecticut Open at the last minute, and she hasn’t played since.
“I’ve always said that getting a rising American star is sometimes better than getting a Top 10 player,” Worcester said. “Our fans love to see young Americans, especially young Americans who are working so hard to overcome adversity. Sloane has been a very popular player with our fans over the years.”
Stephens said her rehab is progressing well. She ran for the first time about a week ago, and she’s currently hitting balls from a sitting position. Over the next week or so, she hopes to be able to stand on the court and hit balls.
“I’m looking forward to getting back on the court, and being back in tournaments again,” said Stephens.
She’s aiming to return to action for Wimbledon in July, though she doesn’t want to rush it. One thing Stephens is sure of: she’ll be at the Connecticut Open, which runs Aug. 18-26 at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale.
“If I’m not here, I’ll be very disappointed,” Stephens said. “But I’ll be here, for sure. Because Anne will be so upset if I’m not!”
Worcester, Mayor Toni Harp, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Reginald Mayo and those 350 third-graders were certainly happy that Stephens was at the Connecticut Tennis Center on Tuesday. The four-time WTA Tour winner and former world No. 11 was all smiles as she interacted with the kids and promoted the Soles4Souls initiative, which collects and used shoes and clothing and redistributes it to people around the world.
“I love kids,” Stephens said, “and I love being able to do this today, getting the kids on the court, introduce to some of them the first time ever touching a racket. For me, that’s really special.”
Stephens hasn’t played since losing in the first round of last summer’s Rio Olympics. The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, as Stephens was playing some of the best tennis of her career, winning three times in 2016 before suffering the injury and having to pull out of not only New Haven but the U.S. Open, as well.
“It was just so devastating, not just for the tournament but for her, that she had to withdraw,” Worcester said.
Stephens has been busy since then — doing work for the Tennis Channel, working on her college degree at Indiana University, holding her after-school clinics in Compton — but is eager to get playing again.
“It’s so weird,” she said. “People say, ‘You won three tournaments last year.’ But I haven’t played in so long. This is the longest I’ve gone in my whole life without playing tennis. It’s been difficult, but I think it’s been a great learning experience. It’s taught me a lot of patience. There’s two sides to it, because I’ve been able to really enjoy my life and have fun, spend time with my family, do things that I normally wouldn’t be able to do.”
At some point this summer, and almost certainly at the Connecticut Open, Sloane Stephens will be back doing what she loves the most — playing tennis.
“I don’t know how it’s gonna feel,” she said. “I might come out of the gates playing really great, or I might lose eight first-rounds in a row. I have no idea. But, in any capacity, being able to compete on the tour, I’m looking forward to it.”
Daily tickets for the 2017 Connecticut Open are now on sale and seating at the Connecticut Open Tennis Center has been renumbered to streamline the ticket-buying process. The 200 and 100 level sections will now replace the Stadium Box and Courtside Box Seats, respectively. In addition to women’s tennis, fans can also look forward to a week-long festival of food, music, and activities such as ShopRite Kids Day (Sunday, August 20), Young Professionals Night (August 22), Superhero and Princess Day/Night (August 23), and United Technologies Military Appreciation Day (August 26).
For more information about the 2017 Connecticut Open and to purchase tickets visit www.ctopen.org or call 203-776-7331.