2017 U.S. Open champion and 11th-best women’s tennis player in the world Sloane Stephens has athletic excellence in her blood. Her mother the first African-American woman named a first-team All-American swimmer at Boston University. Her father was a running back for the New England Patriots who took home the NFL’s “Offensive Rookie of the Year” award in 1988. It even seeps into her personal life — her fiancé is soccer player Jozy Altidore, who plays for Toronto FC and the U.S. Men’s National Team
“I try to keep sports at work and not so much at home, but you can’t help it,” admits Stephens at “Queens of the Future,” a Nike event held in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. “I can go to the grocery store and someone’s like: ‘Oh my god. Can you teach my kid how to play tennis?’”
Stephens is one of the eleven professional female tennis players repping Nike at the event, connecting the likes of Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, Madison Keys, and Maria Sharapova with young female players from New York community tennis groups—the titular “queens of the future.” It’s also a sly reference to Flushing, Queens, where the U.S. Open takes place this week. But before the tournament kicks off, Nike’s athletes are here to celebrate each other and help empower a new generation of promising young female tennis players.
Stephens participated in a friendly doubles match with Sharapova, Halep, and Keys — fresh off a championship win in Cincinnati. But for all the attention women’s’ tennis is gaining for its exciting stars and match-ups, it’s also dominating the style conversation more than the sport’s male athletes.
Last year, Angelique Kerber took home the Wimbledon trophy clad in Palace’s adidas collaboration. Serena Williams competed in Nike outfits designed by Virgil Abloh at the French Open and U.S. Open, one was a black-and-white ensemble that made her feel like a “warrior princess,” and the other was a striking tulle tutu paired with a colorblocked athletic top. Abloh tweeted one of the photos saying he was “willing to design dresses for her for life.”
Now, Sloane Stephens is paving her own path as one of tennis’ best-dressed stars. Today she’s rocking a translucent white Nike windbreaker over a light lilac crop tank top and a striking purple tennis skirt. She’s got the perfect kicks to wear with her fit: the NikeCourt Air Zoom Zero “Aquas.” It melds the white, turquoise, yellow, and purple uppers with soles optimized more for hardcourt than hardwood performance. The sneakers’ signature numbers on the cross straps read “23” and “93” respectively, a nod to Jordan’s jersey number and Stephens’ birth year — the same year the OG Jordan 8 “Aqua” made its debut.
It’s significant because Stephens is the first female athlete to bring Jordan Brand to the tennis court. While Roger Federer has had some of his shoes pay homage to the Jumpman’s sneaker legacy, this particular model tells the story of Stephens’ favorite sneakers growing up.
“At first it was just a conversation: What are my favorite pair of Jordans? What do I like about Jordan?” says Stephens, who describes her personal style as “vibe-oriented.” She says she tries to dress in a way that’s “comfortable and cute,” and is amazed to see how far on-court dressing has evolved in terms of athletes being able to express themselves.
“People actually care about what they wear now, they want to look good, they want to be cute, and they want to be wearing the newest and coolest thing” she says. “I think that’s kind of what’s driven the fashion side of women’s tennis per se.”
Of course, being a Nike athlete certainly comes with its perks. Part of which is the ability to get the “newest and coolest thing” whenever she wants. It’s the kind of access that Stephens’ younger self would likely be floored by. “Growing up Nike was always the brand that everyone wanted to be wearing,” says Stephens. “Now being with Nike, I’m able to wear everything that I want and dress them up, dress them down — everything from the Jerry Lorenzo collabs to sacai.”
Though it’s unclear what Stephens’ big fashion moment will be at the U.S. Open, it’s already clear that Nike is planning some stylish reveals for the tournament. It recently announced custom sacai x Nike outfits for Japanese player Naomi Osaka, and it’s very likely we’ll see Virgil Abloh and Serena Williams come together for some memorable fits as well. Besides, Stephens has more on her mind than what she’ll wear on court. Right now her best method of preparing for the tournament is keeping her head as cool as possible.
“I try not to get too overwhelmed. Just take it easy,” she says. Stephens is glad to be back in New York, where she finds the warm reception from American fans especially welcoming. “They treat us really well here, so I just try to have fun, enjoy it, and do the best I can.”