Back in January, before 19-year-old Sloane Stephens upset Serena Williams in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, we went through the dumbest possible pre-match story: the fake mentorship narrative.
The story went as follows: Serena Williams was mentoring Stephens, and Stephens worshiped the ground that Serena walked in. Both did their part—barely—to play into the narrative, but it was clearly a way for the press to say, "Wow, two American black women are playing each other, and this seems important, but we don't know what else to say," without actually saying it.
We knew this was an exaggeration but what we didn't know is just how much the two don't like each other. In an interview with ESPN The Magazine, conducted in March and published in the mag's latest issue, Stephens suggests there wasn't much a relationship to begin with:
She attributes the media hype over her relationship to the star to "just being African-American and them wanting to link to something." Then she begins to tell the story of when she was 12 and first saw Serena play. Her mom took Sloane, her younger brother, Shawn, and her stepdad to the Fed Cup in Delray Beach, Fla., and the family waited around all day for the Williams sisters to sign their posters.
Stephens' mom, Sybil, is sitting next to her, looking almost like her sister — the same classic beauty, both of them in shades of gray athletic wear — and gives her daughter a look of incredulity. "Are you really telling this story?"
"Yes!" Sloane says. "The people need to know! I waited all day. They walked by three times and never signed our posters."
What little rapport had developed between them is gone now:
"She's not said one word to me, not spoken to me, not said hi, not looked my way, not been in the same room with me since I played her in Australia," Stephens says emphatically.
Serena even committed the Millennial felony of distancing herself from Stephens on social media!
"And that should tell everyone something, how she went from saying all these nice things about me to unfollowing me on Twitter."
Her mom tries to slow her down, but Sloane is insistent. "Like, seriously! People should know. They think she's so friendly and she's so this and she's so that — no, that's not reality! You don't unfollow someone on Twitter, delete them off of BlackBerry Messenger. I mean, what for? Why?"
Now that we've got that story straight we—actually, wait a second. Since the ESPN The Magazine interview, Stephens and Serena have been getting closer! Tennis.com reports today that at the Fed Cup "Serena and her got a long very well, were hanging out a lot together, and that Serena was treating Stephens 'like her favorite.'"
Tennis plotlines on the distaff side are exhausting. Let's take a break from this one and look instead at photos of Bernard Tomic's hitting partner. These were shot over the weekend after Tomic's dad had head-butted him and broken his nose. Now there's a narrative we can all process without an Enigma machine.