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Stephens keeps smiling through pain barrier

AFP  |  Paris 

spent 11 months sidelined by a and the that followed, never dreaming that less than a year after her return she would be one match from a second Grand Slam title.

But the 25-year-old American, who had reached only one semi-final before her woes, could do just that by beating in Saturday's final to add to her crown from last year.

Just six weeks after being ranked 957 in the world, Stephens claimed her maiden Grand Slam title by thrashing good friend 6-3, 6-0 at Flushing Meadows last September.

She saw off her compatriot again on Thursday in straight sets at to set up the clash with world number one Halep.

"After not playing for 11 months, it's some great results," said Stephens, who also won Open title earlier this year.

"Obviously a lot of hard work went into it, a lot of adversity, a lot of ups and downs.

"A lot of emotions, like, you know, am I ever going to be the same? Am I ever going to play good again at a high enough level? Am I a protected ranking? There were so many things that went into it.

"And I think now I've kind of matured a little bit and have recognised the opportunities when they have been presented." When she started her comeback at last July with a first-round loss to Alison Riske, even a return to the top 100 seemed a long way off.

But she found form with back-to-back semi-finals in and before winning the as the world number 82.

It hasn't all been plain since, though, as she suffered a severe hangover after her triumph and failed to win in the rest of 2017.

Stephens only managed to end an eight-match losing streak at a low-level event in in February, but claimed her sixth WTA title in the following month.

That determination when things aren't going her way has served Stephens well again at -- she arrived in after a poor clay-court season that had yet to yield a quarter-final.

"For me staying calm is the most important thing," added Stephens, who called herself a "real fighter" after the

"And then being able to take advantage of the confidence that you do have when you're playing deep into a Slam is super key." Stephens only broke into the world's top 10 for the first time by winning in Miami, but will leave ranked fourth no matter what happens on Saturday.

With very few points to defend until the return to North American hardcourts later this summer, Stephens could well continue that rise further in the coming months, a remarkable turnaround for a who said she can't remember what she was doing when stunned Halep in final 12 months ago.

"I have no idea what I was doing. But I remember, like, the first week of French Open, I was at a wedding in So that was pretty cool." Perhaps her ability to always get through tough times on court comes from putting the importance of into perspective.

Stephens is the daughter of former John Stephens, who played five seasons with the before joining and His final season came just months after Sloane was born.

He died in a 2009 car accident, with his daughter turning professional just weeks later.

"is very situational," Stephens said last year.

"Once you realise that it's not life or death out there, you can turn a match around. If you work really hard, if you fight your way through and fight your way back, you can make some things happen for yourself.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, June 08 2018. 19:50 IST