“To see Sloane’s dream come this far is really exciting,’’ Saviano said. “I believe she will eventually be No. 1 in the world. I knew from the moment I saw her that she could be a world-class player, same feeling I had when I first coached Jennifer Capriati as a kid.
“Sloane is, in my mind, the best athlete in women’s tennis right now. She is the fastest, has the most explosive first step. She is not as physically strong as Serena, but she can absorb Serena’s power, which not many players can do. When Serena rips the ball, Sloane can stretch out, maintain her balance, hit on the run, and force Serena to play more balls than she usually does.’’
It is hardly a surprise Stephens is athletically gifted. She was born in Plantation to Smith and the late John Stephens, a former NFL running back who was the New England Patriots’ first-round draft pick in 1988. Smith is the top swimmer in Boston University history, reached the Olympic trials and in 1988 was the first black female swimmer to be named All-American. She went on to be an assistant coach at Harvard. The couple divorced when Sloane was very young, and Stephens did not have a relationship with her father until 2006. He died in a car accident in 2009. She was raised by her stepfather, Sheldon Smith, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2007.
“Sloane’s rise to this point has not always been smooth sailing; there were ups and downs and tragedies she had to deal with,’’ Saviano said. “That’s what makes this moment so special, because I know all she and her mother went through. This is a huge step, and I believe the best is yet to come.’’