Sloane Stephens will play 15-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. For the 19-year-old American, it is an opportunity that, win or lose, will almost certainly increase Stephens’ marketability.
Currently ranked 25th in the world, Stephens defeated Bojana Jovanovski to reach the quarterfinals. Her emergence there underscores how badly the United States is searching for its next great star: two Americans haven’t met in a quarterfinal of a Grand Slam since 2008. The last time before that was 2004.
Stephens, who tweets at @sloanetweets, has 18,000 followers on Twitter. She has endorsement deals with Under Armour racket-maker Head, Johnson & Johnson and American Express. The promotional agency The Marketing Arm, which runs the Davie-Brown Index, which measures consumer affinity of athletes and celebrities, said it would add her to this week’s survey.
Melanie Oudin, another promising young American who is ranked 84th, made her first quarterfinal in a Grand Slam at the 2009 U.S. Open. Her performance there allowed Oudin, now 21, to quickly snap up deals with Massachusetts tech company BackOffice, Adidas, AirTran and Wilson.
Her performance could be a huge victory for Under Armour, which is still trying to establish its brand in the tennis space. Under Armour is still a wild card because the brand resonates with young people attracted to teamwork, passion and togetherness. With Stephens as its fresh-faced star, the potential for that relationship to grow seems likely.
Not that she’s worried about dollars. Playing Serena Williams — and playing in a Grand Slam — doesn’t exactly lend itself to multitasking.
“Definitely intense,” Stephens told the New York Times of playing Williams at Brisbane International. “It was weird, really weird, to play her. But I think once you get your first-timers out of the way, it’s fine.”
“It will be tough, obviously. It’s quarters of a Grand Slam. There won’t be like that first time, ‘Oh my God, I’m playing Serena!’ That’s kind of out the window now. So that’s good.”