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Sloane Stephens exits, again, in Australian Open 1st round


MELBOURNE, Australia -- Sloane Stephens figures she’s got plenty more Grand Slams ahead of her to improve upon her performance at this year’s Australian Open.

The 2013 semifinalist exited in the first round Monday, losing 6-3, 6-3 to Chinese qualifier Wang Qiang, who is ranked No. 102.

The match started out well for 22-year-old Stephens, seeded 24th, who raced to a 3-1 lead but then lost 10 straight games as she struggled to find momentum and regain focus.

“Today was definitely one of those bad days,” Stephens said. “Nothing was going my way. A lot of shots that I’d like to make, that I normally make weren’t going in. A lot of opportunities slipped away.”

[MORE: Serena starts off with win at Australian Open]

The early exit comes after a solid start to the year for Stephens, who is seen as part of the next generation of rising American players.

Earlier this month, Stephens won her second WTA title in Auckland at the ASB Classic after having won her first title a few months earlier in Washington.

After Auckland, she withdrew from the Hobart International, an Australian Open tune-up, citing a viral illness but did not blame Monday’s loss on health issues.

“I felt fine,” Stephens said. “It just kind of got away from me.”

The hard-hitting American gained a degree of stardom at the 2013 Australian Open where she reached the semifinals by beating Serena Williams and then followed-up by reaching the quarterfinals of Wimbledon that year.

Since then, Stephens hasn’t advanced past the 4th round at a Grand Slam and has had a few first-round exits, including at last year’s Australian and U.S. Opens.

“I’m disappointed that I lost here but if I play until I’m 35, I have plenty more Grand Slams to go. So I just have to look past it,” said Stephens, who was in good spirits despite the loss.

Asked if she really planned to play until she’s 35, Stephens laughed.

“No! But it sounded good.” she said, adding, “Of course, I’m going to be here for a long time.”