This observation has the fingerprints of Paul Annacone all over it. Always a cerebral player, Annacone guided Pete Sampras and, most recently, Roger Federer in the late stages of their careers. Stephens is a far different challenge; Annacone, a professor of advanced tennis, will have a hand in shaping her game and world view.
There were times last year when Stephens did not seem all that focused on the job at hand. Five times -- in Dubai, Indian Wells, Charleston, Madrid and Washington, D.C. -- she checked out in her first match. In the Grand Slams, however, Stephens has been startlingly sharp. This is the fifth consecutive major in which she has advanced to at least the fourth round, an impressive achievement considering her age and the increasing depth of women's tennis.
It's telling that she says, "My goal this year is to do better at the smaller tournaments."
In other words, the big ones will take care of themselves.
"I believe Sloane has the game [to win]," McEnroe said.
Azarenka will be a tough out. She has yet to drop a set, and she's trying to win three consecutive women's titles here for the first time since Martina Hingis (1997-99). You might say Azarenka owes Stephens one for taking out Serena Williams in last year's quarterfinals.
And we'll leave you with this:
Interestingly, the two athletes both have residences in Los Angeles and share the same agent. Stephens said she's never seen Azarenka in Los Angeles and describes their off-court relationship as "nonexistent."
Well, then, enjoy the match.