For teenager Sloane Stephens, beating her heroine and possibly the greatest woman tennis player in history in a quarter-final of the Australian Open posed some immediate, like, oh-my-god dilemmas.
For a start, there was that poster of Serena Williams on her bedroom wall at home in Coral Springs, Florida; that might have to come down. "I think I’ll put up a poster of myself now," she said on court, where the scale of her achievement still was indistinct in her racing mind.
There was the urgent need to speak to her mother, Sybil Smith. "I couldn’t reach my mum," she burbled. "So I had to call my brother, and he couldn't even talk. He was, like, freaking out. I was, like, OK, where's mom? I was, like, OK, never mind. Bye." Brothers!
There was the Twittersphere: 17,000 followers before the match, 35,000 and growing after it. There were all those txt msgs. She tried to get one out after the match, but was overwhelmed by the incoming tide, 233 on two rainbow-coloured phones and multiplying.
"I thought it was free to receive text messages, but someone told me otherwise," she said. "So I’m trying to figure out what to do, because my phone bill will be crazy, and my mom is going to be, like, oh my god, your phone bill. She’s going to be, like, the
money you were going to buy yourself something nice with, you’re going to have to pay your phone bill." The least Stephens will make from the Australian Open is $500,000.
Stephens could not say if there had been a message from President Barack Obama, but, like, that would be cool. "I really want to go to the president’s Easter egg hunt," she said, "so if you could put in a good word for me ..."
This was a day that had come, but this was sooner than either player expected. When Williams, 31, first saw Stephens, 19, in the locker room, she thought to herself: ''Yay, another black girl.'' She said she was glad to be an example to Stephens, but could not be a mentor while they were still playing rivals. They met for the first time in Brisbane a fortnight ago, and predictably, Williams won.
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'Oh my god!' US teen beats Williams
In the biggest tournament upset so far, American teen Sloane Stephens, 19, has beaten the third seed Serena Williams 3-6 7-5 6-4.
Stephens was undaunted. ''This morning, when I got up, I was like, look dude, you can do this,'' she chortled. Pre-match, she was momentarily distracted as MC Craig Willis scrolled through Williams' honour roll. ''Do they really have to read out ALL of her championships?'' she thought to herself. Even when she fell a set and a break behind, she kept her faith. Then came history's turning point. Reaching for a drop shot, Williams strained her back, necessistating treatment between sets. It did not constrict her groundstrokes, but it slowed her serve, the biggest in the women's game, to powder-puff pace.
She barely contemplated retiring. ''It's a quarter-final of a grand slam,'' Williams said. ''Even if I have to (go) off in a wheelie … '' All fortnight, she had had to manage an ankle strain, too, making this the most excruciating two weeks of her stellar career. ''Oh my gosh, I'm almost relieved that its over,'' she said. But she was generous to and about Stephens.
Waiting for Williams' running repairs didn't faze Stephens, who remained in her teenagely world. ''I kind of, like, go through, like, some things in my head, and then look and see what my coach is doing,'' she said. ''And he was eating a chicken sandwich!''
Stephens cruises on the court, almost as if she is still spectating. It suggests she has more gears, up and down. After Wednesday, everyone will be watching her. Soon enough, she will be the poster in another girl's bedroom. She exudes inoffensive self-possession, so American, so teenage. If she had been told a couple of months ago that she would be in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, she was asked, how might she have replied: ''Let's do it,'' she said. ''Let's just go ahead and do it.''