“If I Was Upset Every Time That I Lost I Would Be A Basket Case”: Sloane Stephens On Dealing With Losses And Haters
The 2018 ESPY Awards take place this evening, and while it might not be on the same scale as an award show like the Grammys or the Oscars, for athletes, it’s one of the biggest nights in sports. For Sloane Stephens, the 25-year-old tennis star who powered her way from a foot injury that sidelined her for 11 months to winning the U.S. Open last year, it’s quite the blessing and opportunity to not only attend, but also be nominated.
It hasn’t been an easy climb for Stephens, but despite detractors, she’s proven herself to be a formidable talent on clay and grass, and quite the nuisance for competition. How has she managed to do it? Milk.
Seriously, though, chocolate milk specifically, who she partners with, as well as hard work, support and intense willpower have helped her reach some of the highest of heights in her career lately. As she preps for tonight’s ceremony, we talked to Sloane about her nomination for Best Breakthrough Athlete, dealing with haters, and how milk has helped her play stronger than ever.
MadameNoire: With the ESPYs and being nominated for Best Breakthrough Athlete, knowing everything that you’ve kind of been through over the last, you know, year and some change with your healing from your foot injury, what does it mean to be nominated, even if you don’t win? What does that honor mean to you?
Sloane Stephens: I think it’s really cool. As an American athlete, the ESPYs is something that all athletes I think really look forward to every year. Going to the awards show and I think just a nomination with three other athletes is pretty incredible. It doesn’t matter what I’m even up for, I think it’s just super awesome to get a nomination and just be acknowledged for everything that you’ve done in your own sport and all of your accomplishments. So I think that it’s honestly incredible and I’m just so excited that I was able to be nominated with three other amazing athletes. I think it’s really, really cool.
And speaking obviously of having a breakthrough, what did it take for you to be able to power back and have the success that you have had after something as tough as your foot injury?
It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of, you know, rehab and recovery. I had to do things that I normally wouldn’t do and I had to dig really deep in order to basically get back to where I wanted to be. Obviously, I had no idea that I would have such a good result when I first came back. But I think that I just worked really hard to try to get back and kind of just trusted that everything would work out. And I mean there’s not really much you can do after being off and out of your sport for 11 months. You have no idea what it’s going to be like when you come back. You don’t know what the climate is going to be. You don’t know how you’re going to perform, if your body’s going to hold up. And I think that’s why partnering with chocolate milk was so good, because it helps to recover and refuel and I didn’t have to think about anything. Just finding extra goodies that really work I think was like super key in getting back and chocolate milk was one of the things that really helped me. So, you just have to find everything that works for you and kind of go with it and ride it until you get to where you want to be.
What role does chocolate milk play not only in like your continued repair of your foot, but also in just your post-game recovery as an athlete who has to play for so long sometimes and often in hot conditions?
Chocolate milk, backed by science, it helps with recovery and is really good for you. And I think that sometimes people forget that you have to, after you’ve done all this exercise, you have to take care of your body and you have to obviously stretch and do everything for your body that you can, even just the little bit extra. And I think chocolate milk is that little bit extra that helps you recover and get back on the court the next day. And like I said, just finding a few things that work for you is what’s most important.
You play your best and play really hard and sometimes you have really great results and sometimes you don’t. But I noticed that the sports media, often the preoccupation is like, well what’s next? What have you done for me lately? You’ve said before that the media can sometimes be like your biggest haters. So how do you deal with that? Having to face these people every time, win or loss?
I mean, they’re there to write about you, judge you, criticize you and then when you have a great result, they’re there to praise you and say how great you are and how you’re going to be the next greatest thing and how you’re God’s gift to the sport and blah blah, blah, blah, blah. Like that’s just how it works with everything. And I think a lot of people have a not good enough type of attitude because you go in there and most of the time you’re not good enough for what they want you to say. You’re not telling them what they want to hear and it’s like you’ve messed up their day because you’re not giving them what they want. But my job isn’t to give you what you want. My job is to play tennis and to do what I think is best for myself.
So I think it’s hard. It’s definitely hard and it’s a give and take and it’s not easy. But I think at the end of the day, the people who write about me and always say stuff or whatever, like I have to go home every day and live my life with my family and my friends and the people that I love and care about. Literally none of those people that are in the press room have anything to do with my life. So I think at the end of the day, you have to remember, put it in perspective, I do my job, I do the best I can and those people do their job and they do the best they can, but you don’t take them home with you.
And does that play a factor in why you say that you don’t dwell on certain missteps and losses?
Yeah, definitely. I mean obviously I play a sport that’s 11 months out of the year and if I was upset every time that I lost I would be a basket case because obviously I have to play. I play what, 25 tournaments a year? That’s 25 times I could possibly lose. Sometimes I’ll win the tournament, but if you think about it, I’ve only won one tournament this year. It was a great tournament and I’ve had some other really great results, but I haven’t won. So if you think about it, you’re not going to win every single week. Nobody does. No one’s perfect. So if you do think negatively, it just messes you up and doesn’t give you the best chance to go out the next week and potentially have a better result or another result or something that you can be proud of because you’re so stuck on what happened the week before and how everyone talks badly about you and yada yada.
Yeah, totally. And also, if you don’t mind, I wanted to say that you and Jozy Altidore, your boyfriend, are such an awesome couple. How is it that, you know, two busy athletes with these different goals and ambitions, how do you manage to make time for one another? And also, will he be your date for the ESPYs?
It’s not easy, but obviously I’ve known Jozy for a really long time and we manage to do what’s best for us. I think that obviously two athletes dating is not easy. But you know, with love and support and all of that, we’re able to keep a good relationship and make sure that we’re supporting each other at all times and you know, all that good stuff, all that mushy, corny stuff. But he will not be my date tomorrow, unfortunately. I really wish he was, but he won’t be able to make it.
We’re excited to see your ESPYs look, but I wanted to say that on the court, you also make sure you have a certain look as well. How do you as an athlete balance trying to have like a signature look or trying to, you know, keep your beauty a priority even though you’re about to play a sport, and even though you’re about to sweat profusely?
It’s not easy because you want to look good all of the time. You do the little things you can. I try to make sure my eyebrows are done. I try to make sure I have some fake eyelashes on at all times. My nails are done. Things that make me feel good. You know what I’m saying? So I don’t feel like naked on the court. Just little stuff and things like that go a long way.
Tune into the ESPYS tonight, July 18, at 8 p.m. on ABC.