Growing up, Sloane Stephens always wanted to learn from a professional tennis player.
The 2017 US Open champion, who advanced to the quarter-finals of this year’s French Open, recalls seeing retired players at a United States Tennis Association camp. United, but no current player who could pass on their wisdom to him.
“I would have liked to be around a professional player and meet a professional player and, you know, just be in their presence and see how they are and just see how they do things and interact and practice, practice and all that stuff,” she told GBH News. “It’s just something I’ve always wanted to give back.”
For the first time, Stephens brought that spirit of giving back to Boston, where she, along with the United States Tennis Association, hosted the Sloane Stephens Foundation Invitational Training Camp at the Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center in Dorchester over the weekend.
Approximately 15 players who aspire to play tennis in college, but lack access to the finances often needed to climb the tennis ladder, attended the camp. The group included Yana Volkova, 16, from Brookline and Jhianna Barnes, 14, from Dorchester. For both, it was their first chance to meet a professional player of Stephens’ stature during training camp. It was a bit intimidating, they admitted.
“Like, I was nervous when I first met her, to be in her presence, like she was an amazing player,” Barnes said.
But that nervousness quickly dissipated as the students heard Stephens talk about the importance of on-court confidence and how to manage their brands and represent themselves.
Volkova and Barnes hope to play in college one day, and for Stephens, being that role model is crucial.
“That’s why at every camp, I’m here, I’m here all day, interacting with the kids, kicking with the kids, playing with the kids, talking to the parents and that’s just something for me, I would have liked, so I’m kind of replicating the vision of what I would have liked to have had when I was 15 in what these kids are getting now when they come to these camps,” Stephens said. .
STEC CEO Toni Wiley said someone like Stephens volunteering his time to show the younger generation of gamers what it takes to compete at the highest levels of the game is huge.
“So for us, that’s what we want,” Wiley said. “We want kids to have access to everything they need to be at their best, whether it’s college tennis, getting out on the tour, whatever it is, we want to equip them with that capability.”
The camp was also something of a homecoming for Stephens, who moved to the Boston area earlier this year when her footballer husband Jozy Altidore joined the New England Revolution. But his connection to Boston runs even deeper: his mother, Sybil Smith, is considered the greatest swimmer in Boston University history and his father, John Stephens, was a running back for the Patriots.
Now, Stephens says she plans to continue building her relationship with Boston’s tennis community and showcasing places like Sportsmen’s, which was the first nonprofit indoor tennis club built by and for the black community in the country.
“These types of clubs don’t get that recognition, especially in the region they are in. So I like to make sure they have the opportunity, that they get the recognition,” she said. declared.
“And it’s not that people don’t want to play here, it’s just that you don’t know until you’re here,” she continued. “If you didn’t live in Boston, you didn’t live in Dorchester, you’re not from the area, you wouldn’t know anything about Sportsmen’s and the amazing things they offer. … Shining a light on these types of facilities is important.”