Sloane Stephens’ coach Kamau Murray grew up on the south side of Chicago, where was introduced to tennis through a free after-school program. After Stephens’ win over Venus Williams tonight, Inside Tennis spoke with Murray, the President/CEO of XS Tennis and XSTEF. He’s a tall, thin, athletic man, just like a certain Barack Obama.
INSIDE TENNIS: What did Sloane show us tonight?
KAMAU MURRAY: She likes to call it bounceback-ability. What she just showed was no panicking, continuing to play every point, and not get down on herself. Just compete hard every time.
The thing we’ve been working on, especially through an injury and a comeback, was, “You’re going to have to earn your way back on the tour,” and some of those long points where she came out on top showed her willingness to work and earn it.
After being up a break, she went down a break in the third. In years past, she potentially would fold. This time she just continued to work.
When she was [injured and] sitting in a chair and couldn’t walk, that was the thing: “Let’s work. It’s not going to be fun, it’s not going to be pretty, but this is your job.”
IT: How did you get Sloane, who was not known for her grit, if I can be candid, to do that?
KM: Well, I’m from the south side of Chicago. She’s spent some time there. I think that attitude, that environment has an effect on people. She spent a lot of time around the kids in my program, who are a lot less fortunate than her. That had an impact on her.
IT: We say the south side of Chicago and we know the great men who have come from there, but what do those words mean?
KM: Toughness, perseverance, hard work, humility.
IT: She’s a California girl. Did she take to that pretty easily or did it take a while?
KM: After two years, I think it slowly sinks in.
IT: Can Sloane Stephens become the US Open champion this year?
KM: You know what, if she steps up and takes it, I think she can. No one is going to give it to her. If next round she steps up and plays courageous, and swings free, she can win.
IT: What is the one quality that you like most about Sloane?
KM: Her honesty. I think the key to our relationship is that she and I have total truth. I can handle her truth if I’m doing something I’m not supposed to do, and she can handle mine. Our promise to each other was to be honest. We’ve done for that for the past year and a half, two years. I think that’s why we’re still together.