MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - Sloane Stephens didn’t just achieve her best Grand Slam result by reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open _ she’s also one up on her good friend Sam Querrey.
Stephens and Querrey, who lost in the third round of men’s singles, share a coach, David Nainkin. They’ve developed a good-natured rivalry about who’s rising faster in the rankings.
With her run to the semifinals at Melbourne Park, Stephens will improve to No. 17 from No. 29 in the rankings next week, while Querrey is not expected to rise much higher than his current No. 22.
“Sam Querrey sent me a message and said, `You might be ahead of me on Monday, but in three weeks, I’m going to be ahead of you,’” the 19-year-old Stephens said after her straight-sets loss to No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals on Thursday. “I have to keep working because I want to stay in front of him.”
The Americans haven’t made a wager over who will be ranked higher by the end of the year _ there’s just pride at stake, Stephens said.
“Obviously egos are big,” she said earlier this week. “This is tennis, so somebody’s going to win.”
Stephens was disappointed she didn’t follow up her big win over 15-time major winner Serena Williams in the quarterfinals with a better match against Azarenka, but her overall performance at the tournament far exceeded her expectations at the start of the season.
“I’m obviously coming out of the Australian summer with amazing momentum, knowing I can pretty much hang in there with anybody and even beat some of the best players,” she said. “It’s definitely a good feeling.”
DOWN UNDER: It can’t be a good feeling for David Ferrer: Another loss in a Grand Slam semifinal by the same humbling score.
Ferrer was defeated by top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Australian Open on Thursday 6-2, 6-2, 6-1. He lost by the same score to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the French Open last year on his favored clay surface.
For all his success on the court _ he won a tour-leading seven titles last year _ the Spaniard hasn’t been able to get past the semifinals at majors.
He lost in the semifinals of the 2012 and 2007 U.S. Open to Djokovic, and fell in the semifinals of the 2011 Australian Open to Andy Murray.
A clearly dejected Ferrer tried to explain how frustrating it feels to get so close to a Grand Slam final, only to be beaten each time by one of the so-called Big Four of men’s tennis _ Djokovic, Murray, Nadal and Roger Federer.
“It’s difficult to do one final of a Grand Slam,” the fifth-ranked Ferrer said. “When I did the semifinal in Roland Garros, Australian Open, U.S. Open, it was a loss to the best three players, no?
“I am trying to do my best every match. But I know they are better than me. What can I do?”
Meanwhile, Djokovic was feeling so fresh after his easy win over Ferrer that he had time to make a cameo appearance during a legends doubles match later Thursday night.
The Serbian star posed as a doctor and pretended to perform CPR on retired French player Henri Leconte, much to the delight of the picture-snapping crowd.
Djokovic gave reporters his diagnosis during a later news conference: “(Leconte) is definitely crazy. He needs long-term treatment.”
LUCKY NO. 13: Mike Bryan can’t pronounce the name of one of his opponents in the Australian Open doubles final on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean he’s not taking the competition seriously.
Identical twins Mike and Bob Bryan, the top seeds at Melbourne Park, advanced to their ninth Australian Open final with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 win over the Italian duo of Simon Bolelli and Fabio Fognini on Thursday.
The brothers will be trying to win a record 13th Grand Slam title, which will move them one ahead of the Australian greats John Newcombe and Tony Roche on the all-time Grand Slam doubles titles list.
The Bryans play Dutchmen Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling, who upset the third-seeded Spanish duo of Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez to reach their first Grand Slam final.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen that guy,” Bryan said, referring to Sijsling. “I don’t know how to pronounce his name. But they’ve played big doubles. They serve huge and rip groundstrokes.
“Hopefully they’re nervous, but you can’t count on it.”
Bryan said the doubles game has changed to such an extent in recent years, he and his brother have only faced one serve-and-volley player en route to the final. Most of the teams they’ve played have preferred to hit from the baseline.
“That’s kind of the new era of doubles. You see guys serving and staying back,” he said. “You’re going to see that over the (coming) years. When most of these doubles guys become extinct, you’re going see just a bunch of crosscourt singles.”
TEENAGE DREAM: Australian teenager Ashleigh Barty already knows how she’ll spend part of the prize money she’ll pocket for reaching the women’s doubles final at the Australian Open.
“It will cover a few of the Tigers jerseys that I buy,” she said, referring to her favorite Australian rules Australian Football League team, the Richmond Tigers. “I have far too many at home.”
Barty may need to think a little bigger _ if she and fellow Australian Casey Dellacqua win the final against the No. 1 team in the world, Italians Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, they’ll take home $250,000 apiece. Not a bad payday for a 16-year-old.
Barty and Dellacqua, wild-card entrants into the doubles draw, are having an amazing run in Melbourne. They took out the No. 3 seeds, Lisa Raymond and Maria Kirilenko, in the second round, and followed up that win with three more straight-set victories.
Barty is the youngest Grand Slam finalist since Frenchwoman Tatiana Golovin won the mixed doubles at the 2004 French Open at the age of 16 with Richard Gasquet.
“Already this week for me has been such an achievement,” Barty said. “If we can go one step further, it would be incredible.”
The Italian duo will be tough to beat. Errani and Vinci won the French Open and U.S. Open doubles last year _ and defeated Serena and Venus Williams in three tight sets in the quarterfinals this week.
“We’re definitely the underdogs,” Dellacqua said. “I don’t think many people would have thought we’d be in the final. To go out there and think we’re going to beat the No. 1 players in the world, it’s going to be a big task.”
Barty and Dellacqua were included in the Australian team named Thursday to play a Fed Cup match against the Czech Republic next month.
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