The BNP Paribas Open takes place from March 4-17, 2019.
Earlier this week at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, Sloane Stephens spoke about her split with longtime coach Kamau Murray before the start of this year. She spoke of searching for a new voice on her team and that she prefers someone who doesn’t talk to her during matches.
Two days later, in her first match at the BNP Paribas Open, the fourth-ranked player in the world could have used someone to talk her through what became a disastrous 6-3, 6-0 loss to unseeded Stefanie Voegele, who is ranked 109th.
Stephens, who won the 2017 U.S. Open and reached last year’s French Open final, came here without a coach and was perhaps the best hope to become the first American woman to win this event since 2001. But her results at Indian Wells have been mixed in recent years, and she has won just four of eight matches since reaching the quarterfinals in 2014.
She says it is sometimes difficult to maintain her focus at Indian Wells because being an American player at a big tournament in the United States pulls her in a variety of different directions.
“This week is just a busy week, a lot of stuff happening,” she said. “Obviously, being in the U.S. again, there is a lot more required and asked of you. So, I think it’s a little bit tough. I think just sometimes you get a little bit overwhelmed.”
On the court, she was overwhelmed from the start of her match on Stadium Court. Despite a strong home crowd, Stephens, 26, fell behind two breaks in a set that wasn’t close.
Instead of rallying in the second set, she kept her head down, didn’t celebrate when she did score big points and her body language looked as though she had been defeated long before the final point was won. The crowd, which was at one point urging her to rally, fell silent for the final four games of the match, which went by in a flash.
Voegele has won four of five matches between the two. Stephens said he didn’t know why Voegele causes her trouble.
“I’m still trying to figure it out, obviously,” she said. “If I knew, I would probably do a little bit better.”
Stephens acknowledged the transition in her game after moving on from Murray and said she believes that it will only be momentary. She isn’t panicking and won’t allow a result like this to rush to hire a coach for the sake of having just anyone in her corner.
“Things will get better,” she said. “Might not be in the next week. Might not be next week. But for sure in the next couple of months maybe things will, you know, figure themselves out.
“Like I said, I’m going through a transition. It’s tough. Playing a sport is not easy. But I definitely think that things will get better. And then we will be in a press conference and I’ll be, like, ‘See, guys? It’s better (smiling).’
“So I’m waiting for that day and looking forward to that day. For now I’m just trying to work through with what I’ve got.”
Andrew John is covering the BNP Paribas Open for The Desert Sun and the USA TODAY Network. Find him on Twitter: @Andrew _L_John