PARIS — A year ago at this time, Sloane Stephens sat out the French Open while she put in the work it would take to get back on tour after having foot surgery. The payoff was a U.S. Open title last September.
Then, less than six months ago, Stephens was exiting the Australian Open in the first round, part of a downturn and an eight-match losing skid.
On Saturday, past the fourth round at Roland Garros for the first time in her career, bidding to win a second Grand Slam championship, the 10th-seeded Stephens got off to a great start in the French Open final. The 25-year-old American could not hold onto her lead of a set and a break, though, and wound up as the runner-up with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 loss to No. 1 Simona Halep.
"Not very many players ever get to a Grand Slam final. So the fact that I have won one and been in another final in such a short period of time, I'm very optimistic and very pleased with myself," said Stephens, who will move up to a career-best No. 4 in the WTA rankings on Monday. "I'm not satisfied, but I am proud of myself."
After playing so well, so cleanly, for the opening set and while going ahead 2-0 in the second, Stephens slowed down.
Her footwork was not as precise. Her mistakes began to increase. Her ability to put the ball right where she wanted to declined. Stephens finished with 39 unforced errors, 25 on backhands.
"For Sloane, you could just see late in the second set (that she was) starting to get a little bit tired, making a few more errors than she did in the first set," said Halep's coach, Darren Cahill. "I think Simona realized that."
Stephens wouldn't acknowledge running out of steam.
Instead, she credited Halep for the way the match turned.
"She raised her game, raised her level. Not much you can really do about that," said Stephens, whose late father, John, was the 1988 Offensive Rookie of the Year for the New England Patriots.
"I competed the best I could," she added, "and the better player won the match today."
Stephens, who is based in Florida, is not using to being on the wrong end of a tournament final.
She entered Saturday with a 6-0 record on such occasions.
But this was not her day.
"It happened. You learn from it. You move on," she said. "You try to be better next time."
Seems likely Stephens will be able to put this setback behind.
The same way she moved on from her foot operation in January 2017. The same way she moved on from all of those defeats that came right after her U.S. Open triumph.
"Sloane is able to cope with some of the losses that I think people were very disappointed in. I don't think she was personally as disappointed as the world was. And I think that she was confident in what we were doing. She was confident in what she was doing," said Stephens' coach, Kamau Murray. "And she didn't allow the outside pressure to sort of ... make her panic. That's sort of the key to her success."