May 22, 2018 / 2:01 PM / 5 months ago

RPT-Tennis-Stephens returns to Roland Garros with new attitude

(Repeats story moved at 1400 GMT, no change in text)

By Frank Pingue

May 22 (Reuters) - Sloane Stephens has never enjoyed much success at the French Open but that could soon change when the American baseliner struts into Roland Garros this year for the first time as a grand slam champion.

Stephens has yet to get beyond the fourth round in six trips to Paris, but after collecting her maiden grand slam title at last year’s U.S. Open she brings a newfound belief that could get her over the hump on the clay courts of Roland Garros.

The 25-year-old American’s results on clay in the run-up to the French Open will hardly cause her opponents to shake in their boots but it is a sense of belonging as a reigning grand slam winner that could be what makes her most dangerous.

Stephens is more of a power player and often left frustrated on clay, even though her biography on the WTA’s website says the dirt is her favourite surface.

Clay has not been kind to Stephens this year. She fell in the third round at both the Italian and Madrid Opens along with a first-round loss in Stuttgart.

But Stephens is not one to worry about barren spells on the court. Following her U.S. Open final triumph over Madison Keys last September, she embarked on an eight-match losing streak that last till February this year.

“Tennis is definitely a roller coaster,” Stephens said. “But I have learned to just not panic. It will be OK.”

Stephens proved to be right as she went on to triumph at the Miami Open in March, a title that helped her break into the top 10 of the WTA rankings, to ninth, for the first time.

Of Stephens’ six career WTA titles, only one has come on clay and that was two years ago at Charleston. Since then she has not had even a sniff at a title on clay but will be raring to go at the year’s second grand slam.

Stephens missed last year’s French Open while sidelined for 10 months with a foot injury that required surgery.

But the U.S. Open and Miami titles that she collected since her return to competition have shown that she is not suffering any ill effects from the injury, and with the right frame of mind could be in for a memorable fortnight at Roland Garros. (Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto Editing by Amlan Chakraborty and Pritha Sarkar)

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