American women representing in Paris
PARIS – The last of the American men caught the Metro from the French Open on Saturday (adieu!), but four U.S. women can look forward to a second week here, where the sun finally came out, the temperature rose pleasantly and the first of June was simply a wonderful day to be young and athletic and soaking in all that Paris has to offer.
"I think the first time I came to Paris I just fell in love with seeing the Eiffel Tower and just being able to walk on the Champs Elysées," Sloane Stephens said. "Going shopping, going to Haagen Dazs every day. I just fell in love with it, and I've loved it from the first time I got here. I love it more and more every year because I keep finding new stores."
Wait a second. Haagen Dazs? She loves Paris because of Haagen Dazs? Like there isn't Haagen Dazs in the U.S.?
"They have a flavor here that they don't have in the U.S.," Stephens said. "It's called macadamia nut brittle and it's my favorite and they don't have it in the U.S., so I have to get it here every day."
Macadamia nut brittle, strawberry cheesecake or just plain old vanilla, life has been one big old bowl of ice cream for the American women here. One day after Serena Williams won her third-round match, Stephens beat Marina Erakovic, Bethanie Mattek-Sands beat Paula Ormaechea and Jamie Hampton upset 2011 Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova.
That means one-quarter of the women in the fourth round are Americans. That's the most America has sent that far in a Grand Slam since the 2004 U.S. Open.
"It's impressive, huh?" Hampton said. "It's a unique group. Serena, obviously, is the best player in the world. Bethanie, Sloane and myself -- we've got three different players with three different games. It's cool."
Ranked 54th, 23-year-old Hampton said that she always knew she had a good game but that she has matured as a person since moving to Boca Raton, Fla., to train with several other players.
"I mean, I really had to grow up pretty quickly," she said. "Before, living with my parents, my mom I was pretty sheltered as a kid. My mom was doing everything for me. When I went down there, I made it a point that I have to do everything by myself. I have to grow up.
"My mom was cooking for me, laundry, everything for me. When I was little, she used to string my racquets, as well. All of that I have to do on my own. I have to go to the grocery store by myself. Scary thought, I know."
She played with maturity Saturday, whipping Kvitova in the first set 6-1, then fighting hard to win 7-6 (9-7 tiebreaker) in the second set. "I think I caught her a little off guard," Hampton said. "I came up with some good shots when I needed to. And I don't think she was on her game."
Whatever other souvenirs Hampton brings home from Paris, she will also go home with clay stains (where's Mom when you need her for laundry?). She took a tumble on the clay earlier this week, then again Saturday when she crashed to the court on a match point.
"I was trying to run down that ball or die trying," Hampton said. "I didn't want to give her another look at another point. From the beginning, that was going to be my strategy. I was going try for every ball as a hard as I could."
Stephens, 20, had an easier time of it against Erakovic, beating her in straight sets to reach the fourth round here for the second year in a row. She reached the semifinals at the Australian Open in January but has struggled some in the months since, on and off the court. But she was relaxed Saturday, saying she has learned to enjoy herself off the court -- and appreciate her youth.
"People don't understand, like, at 20 years old, I can do whatever I want," she said. "So I think I just had to realize that again."
If she can do anything now, when will the real world intrude?
"I don't live in the real world," Stephens said with good humor. "So I don't know. But hopefully it never stops. There are no other 20-year-olds like me. There might be a few, like Miley Cyrus or something, but other than that I'm pretty much riding alone on this train."
Well, we'll see how far that train goes here -- Stephens' next opponent is Maria Sharapova. "Obviously, playing the No. 2 player in the world, that's always going to be tough," Stephens said.
If Stephens wants to know tough, she should chat with Mattek-Sands, who walked into the bull ring that is Court 1 just as Stephens left it.
"I think Sloane has a good head on her shoulders," Mattek-Sands said. "She's enjoying the traveling, the road. Enjoying the moment. And that's all I would really say to anyone coming up. Because it can be long. There will be setbacks, there will be losses. There will be injuries. There's going to be bad weather. There are going to be a lot of days when it's not glamorous.
"If you can enjoy it through the ups and downs, you're going to have a lot more fun on the tour."
Mattek-Sands knows about the ups and downs. Like Stephens, Mattek-Sands turned pro at age 14. Unlike Stephens, she has had a rougher go of it in her 14-year career. Hindered by repeated injuries and ailments -- hips, shoulder, foot, mono, a whopping 26 food allergies -- her career was in such free fall that she contemplated retirement last summer and plunged to 205th just three months ago.
The famous fashion plate also lost her clothing sponsor, which could make her a rare player in the fourth round without a logo to wear. Although there is still time to slap a logo on her shirt.<./p>
"Definitely," she said. "I'm open to offers."
The question is how much time a sponsor has to come forward. Although Stephens must face Sharapova, Mattek-Sands has an easier path to the quarterfinals. She'll play Russia's Maria Kirilenko, who is ranked 12th. Beating Kirilenko won't be easy, but Mattek-Sands beat No. 6 Li Na on Thursday, so it's not out of the question.
Nor, in her mind, is going further than the quarters. In fact, she says she can see herself winning it all.
"I can," she said. "I mean, I've dreamed about it. I have seen it in my mind a hundred times. But, you know, again, you don't have everything in your control. You've got opponents that are going to make it tough for you to get there.
"There is a little luck involved, and, you know, I feel I have worked hard and I've given myself the best chance that I can this year so far, and I'm going to go with it."
Well, why not? The sun was finally out and the weather was warm, so why not dream about a big serving of your favorite ice cream with whipped cream and a cherry on top. It's Paris in June. Savor the ice cream and the moment.