By Ann Liguori
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Sloane Stephens has carried the burden of being considered the possible successor to top-ranked Serena Williams for a while now and it’s either too much pressure for her, she’s not hungry enough and/or she doesn’t want it bad enough.

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Stephens certainly has the talent to be playing better.

Stephens showed a disappointing effort, losing to the 96th – ranked Johanna Larsson in three sets. The Swede beat Stephens 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.

Larson came to play, making Stephens work for every point from the start, but 63 unforced errors did Stephens in. Stephens barely pulled out the first set 7-5. In the second set, Stephens was ahead 3-love but Larson was able to rally back to win it, 6-4, and then in the third, Stephens was up 2 love before Larson broke back and then broke again in the 6th game to go up 4-2. Larson then closed it out from there. It was obvious the last few games in the final set that Stephens stopped fighting.

Stephens was seeded 21st in this championship and ranked 24th in the world and remains the highest- ranked player yet to reach a singles final.

After the match, Stephen said “I’m not going to dwell on this. I’m just gonna keep improving and getting better and looking forward to the next tournaments.”

“Everyone goes through times like this. I’m not the first person and won’t be the last…”

When asked what her goals are for the rest of the year and going into 2015, Stephens replied, “I’m not too worried about ranking or winning a tournament or anything like that. Just focusing on myself and mostly just enjoying myself out there.”

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The question remains that with a poor season and her earliest exit at the U.S. Open to date, can she turn it around, gain motivation and focus, and salvage the rest of the season?

“There is a lot of the year left. I mean, I still have Asia. There is probably seven tournaments after that. It’s far from over.”

Can Stephens use this ‘earliest exit’ at the Open to motivate her to focus, practice, and play up to her potential?

Taking a few tips from the ever-competitive Maria Sharapova would help. No matter how much Sharapova may be struggling, whether it’s with her inconsistent serve, or nagging injuries, or just a slow start, Sharapova never gives up and fights to the finish.

Sharapova overcame a slow start against Alexandra Dulgheru in her second round match on Wednesday, but pulled it out in three sets.

Yes, winning is important. But showing the effort when it counts, digging down deep during the key points, is what it’s all about. At this level of the game, every player should be motivated to do their best. But you have to want it bad enough.

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