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Sloane Stephens (photo credit: Facebook/Volvo Car Open)

Joel Drucker: Absent But Present - Sloane Stephens at the Volvo Car Open

A year ago, here in Charleston at the Volvo Car Open, Sloane Stephens stole the show. Having won just one match in five previous appearances, Stephens’ Volvo Car Open career took a major U-turn. Playing the best clay court tennis of her career, Stephens stole the show, taking the title and along the way earning $128,100 and a bright blue Volvo V60 Polestar.

But this year in Charleston, Stephens is part of a different show. Sidelined for the last three months with a stress fracture in her left foot, Stephens this year has been working for Tennis Channel as an analyst.

Surely it had to be difficult for Stephens to be a witness at the same venue where she’d previously been the belle of the ball. But shortly after finishing her opening glance of the day’s matches with Tennis Channel host Steve Weissman, Stephens was hardly upset about her plight. “To just be around a tennis tournament is fun,” she said. “I’m enjoying watching tennis and seeing my friends.”

When it comes to life in TV, Stephens enjoys the structure, the teamwork and the chance to speak her mind. She’s even fine with an aspect of the TV world that can be hard for many athletes: the stop-and-start nature of sitting in a studio, patiently awaiting everything from the uncertain end of matches to the arrival of guests.

“It’s really not that bad,” Stephens said about the hurry up and wait pattern of TV work. “It’s kind of like what you do for matches. You’re waiting for matches to end, and then suddenly they split and you’ve got to wait for another set.”

While Stephens’ own foot recovers, of late she has greatly aided the feet of others. Recently, Stephens partnered with Soles4Souls, a Nashville-based charity that collects and redistributes new and used shoes to people in need. The Volvo Car Open has signed on as one of Stephens’ Soles4Souls tournament partners, along with the Miami Open; Citi Open in Washington, DC; Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati; and the Louisville International Open. Since its inception in 2006, Soles4Souls has distributed over 26 million pairs of shoes to the underprivileged in 127 countries.

“I feel very fortunate to be working with Soles4Souls and to have the opportunity to create a positive change for those less fortunate,” said Stephens. “As athletes, we receive clothing and I am honored to be in a position to make a small difference in the lives of others and help support a powerful and sustainable way for people to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.”

“Sloane and Volvo Car Open are supporting Soles4Souls because it is the definition of a social enterprise where solid business practices are used to create positive change in people’s lives,” said Bob Moran, Volvo Car Open tournament director. “Sloane is a strong supporter of Soles4Souls’ anti-poverty mission, and we hope to take a big step in providing the organization with the used shoes they require to keep making a difference for people in need.”

Looking out into the Volvo Car Open plaza from her seat in the Tennis Channel outdoor studio, Stephens saw her exile with perspective: “Way worse things can happen to me than not winning a title.” She intends to return to competition at Wimbledon.

Read more articles by Joel Drucker

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