The great hope of American tennis, heir to the Williams sisters, Sloane Stephens, is learning the hard way about life after novelty. A quarter-finalist last year, the 21-year-old fell in straight sets to the former teenage poster girl of Russian tennis, Maria Kirilenko, now a relative veteran at 27.
Stephens, seeded 18, was given the honour of opening business on Court 18, the perfect athletic adornment to a sun-bleached morning in the capital. Coached by Paul Annacone, guru to the great Pete Sampras, Stephens has reached the point in her winless career where a leap needs to be made.
She was identified as the future of the women’s game when she passed briefly through the Nick Bolitieri Florida regime as a 15-year-old. Her semi-final appearance at last year’s Australian Open is thus far her career apotheosis. After fourth round exits in Australia and the French this year, she had hoped Wimbledon might be a springboard to that higher plane.
“I’m so sorry for those who now don’t have to write about me this week and next,” she said. “This is the first time I have lost in the first round of a slam. It feels like the end of the world right now. Of course, it’s not. Sometimes you have to be a big girl and work through your difficulties.”
Kirilenko knows all about potential. As a former US Open junior champion she was the Russian who was going to deliver what Anna Kournikova didn’t, substance as well as beauty. In truth successes is far more likely to come on screen, where she has a credit to her name already, playing the role of Ludmila Pelikhova in the 2013 film ‘Vamp U’.
Come in no.17 your time is up. Sam ‘boulders for shoulders’ Stosur claimed the unwanted mantle of first seed to fall, losing in straight sets to Yanina Wickmayer. This is not a new phenomenon for the 30-year-old Australian, who split with coach Miles Maclachan last week. She has lost in the opening round on seven occasions.
Stosur was, however, not the first player out of the tournament. That distinction fell to Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, blown away 6-0 6-4 by Russia’s Elena Vesnina.