WASHINGTON — Sloane Stephens sat at a table for her postmatch news conference, eyed the big glass trophy sitting at arm's length, and asked, "What happens to this?"
Forgive the 22-year-old American for not knowing. She's never been given championship hardware at a professional tournament before.
Stephens earned a WTA title for the first time Sunday, overwhelming Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 6-1, 6-2 in the final of the hard-court Citi Open.
"Nothing was rushed. Nothing was given to me. I had to work for everything. It was just nice that all of the hard work and everything I've put into it — now I can say that I have a tournament title," Stephens said. "Everything happens when it's supposed to happen."
It was her first final as a pro.
Entering this tuneup for the U.S. Open, she owned a .685 career winning percentage at Grand Slam tournaments, including getting to the second week in seven appearances, with a semifinal showing at the Australian Open and quarterfinal run at Wimbledon, both in 2013. But at lesser events, her winning percentage was only .524.
At Washington, for example, she was just 3-4 before this year, with three first-round exits. But Stephens did not lose a set during her four victories this week, highlighted by a semifinal win over 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur on Saturday.
Neither of Sunday's finalists was seeded; Stephens is ranked 35th, and Pavlyuchenkova is 40th.
Stephens raced to a 3-0 lead within 10 minutes by taking 15 of the first 21 points and never looked back. She broke Pavlyuchenkova five times while saving 5 of 6 break points she faced and compiled an impressive ratio of 20 winners to nine unforced errors.
At her news conference, a reporter mentioned that Stephens has been considered the best women's tennis player without a title for quite some time.
"Now you'll have somebody else to talk about," Stephens replied. "I'm sure there's someone else, so I will pass that torch on to whoever's behind me."
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