This evening, Serena Williams plays 19-year-old American phenom Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. The two played for the first time just three weeks ago in Brisbane, when No. 3 Williams cruised past No. 25 Stephens, 6-4, 6-3. But tonight's match has something of a different tenor to it, in part because it's a much bigger stage, but also because—for some reason that sportswriters just can't work out quite yet—Sloane has been deemed something of a "protégé" to the elder Williams. Why?
Even in the absence of a tangible bond, there are still enough connections between the two to make this meeting of generations seem meaningful.
Oh. Like what?
Both the 31-year-old Serena and the 19-year-old Stephens have outgoing, fearless personalities and penchants for mischievous remarks.
I see. Anything else?
Both possess powerful, speedy games with big serves while standing under 5-foot-9 — barely mid-height for a female pro tennis player.
They must have something of a bond, one would think. Wouldn't one?
The off-court similarities help explain why they quickly became friends since Serena spotted the American teen in the locker room at a World TeamTennis event four years ago.
Oh, off-court similarities. That explains it. Let's check in with Australia's Herald Sun:
It will be a mirror image in some ways when Serena Williams stares across the net on Rod Laver Arena today.
While opponent Sloane Stephens is not a clone, there are obvious similarities for the American teenager.
I'm intrigued. Like what?
At 19, Stephens is as much a free swinger as a free spirit, like the 15-times grand slam titleholder in her formative years.
Oh. What you got, Daily Mail?
Stephens is the 'next big thing' in American tennis and the clash against Serena will be intriguing.
The 19-year-old beat Jovanovski 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 to set up the clash against her childhood hero.
Hero, you say.
Although [Stephens] doesn't like being compared to Serena, there are similarities between the two.
Please, do tell.
Both have powerful serves and like playing from the baseline, for instance.
What else, for instance?
They get along well off of the court too, often texting each other. 'We just keep it goofy,' Stephens said. 'She's like the goofiest person I know.'
Sounds like a mentorship! Is it a mentorship, Serena?
I would need a better definition of the word mentor. I just feel like being the older one, probably some of the younger players look up to me. It's hard to be a real mentor when you're still in competition.
But surely there's a kinship, yes? Surely there's a connection between you and Sloane that's led people to believe you're a mentor of some kind? How did you the two of you become friendly, anyway?
I saw her in the locker room. She was another black girl.
It's going to be a great match.