In celebration of Black History Month, the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF) released a digital exhibit, Breaking the Racial Barriers, which is a comprehensive look at the history of black tennis in America. The exhibit includes brief profiles of black tennis pioneers, former pros and current top pros, including tennis greats Serena and Venus Williams and Dr. R. Walter Johnson, who in 2009 was inducted into the (ITHF) as a contributor. Throughout the Australian Open, the will recognize selected black pioneers and current players.

2017 U.S. Open Champion

Sloane Stephens sees the U.S. Open as her special memory box where she has stored the saddest and most joyous moments of her young life. Her most painful moment there occurred while competing in the 2009 U.S. Open junior championships when a relative informed her that her father, John, a former NFL running back, had died in an automobile accident. Her happiest time came eight years later when she held the winner’s trophy in Arthur Ashe stadium as the 2017 U.S. Open women’s champion. 

Stephens claimed her first major title, defeating her good friend Madison Keys in the final. “I didn’t think I would ever regroup here (after my dad died),” Stephens told Sports Illustrated. “If someone told me … that I would end up winning the U.S. Open years later, I would’ve been like, ‘You’re crazy.’ I’ve had so many great moments and so many sad moments here.” 

Stephens ended the year losing eight consecutive matches. She recovered her form at the 2018 Miami Open, beating three top 10 players on the way to the title. Two months later, she reached the French Open final, losing to No. 1 Simona Halep and rose to a career high world No. 3. She then hit another bad patch and fell to No. 39 in November 2020.

Encouraged by her mother, Sybil Smith, a former All-American swimmer with Boston University, and late stepfather, Sheldon Smith, Stephens learned to play tennis at age 9. She reached a career-high junior world No. 5 ranking before turning pro in 2009.   The promise that she had shown as a junior surfaced in 2013 when she reached the Australian Open semifinals, upsetting Serena Williams in the quarterfinals, the French Open fourth round and the Wimbledon quarterfinals.

Courtesy of International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF)