Sloane is walking back to happiness
Kamau Murray had a message for his charge Sloane Stephens when she called him five months ago: "Let me know when you can walk."
Following surgery, Stephens was not allowed to put any weight on her foot for 16 weeks. She began hitting tennis balls sitting on a chair. Two months after her first tournament back, she won the US Open.
The story, Stephens said on court following her 6-3 6-0 trouncing of fellow American Madison Keys in the final, was impossible. Yet there she was, lifting her first grand slam trophy on home soil and, with wide-eyed incredulity, collecting a cheque for £2.8million.
Stephens had plateaued after reaching her first grand slam semi-final at the Australian Open in 2013 before turning to Murray ahead of the 2016 season. The former college player combined his coaching with a corporate job in pharmaceuticals until two years ago when he decided to go full-time.
He also established a foundation in Chicago teaching tennis to underprivileged children and it was Stephens' enthusiasm for that project that convinced him she was a player he wanted to work with.
"You get the game taken away from you and then you come back, you start to appreciate it more," said Murray.
"She legitimately loves to play tennis. She would call me, and she was all, 'I can't wait to get back on the court'. I was like, 'Really? I'm enjoying my kids now, let me know when you can walk'."