At the Net: Stephens is believin'

Don't look now, but American sensation Sloane Stephens is the youngest player in the women's Top 20.

The 19-year-old got off to a fast start this season with a big surprise run into last month's Australian Open semifinals, and she now seems to be sharing the American tennis spotlight with the great Serena Williams, whom she stunned in three sets in come-from-behind fashion in the quarterfinals in Oz.

The world No. 16 Stephens, who started the year ranked 38th, said she's still trying to digest it all.

"I'm in a completely new situation," Stephens said this week after losing to Romanian Sorana Cirstea in three sets in the opening round at the Dubai Tennis Championships. "I'm coming from not being seeded at tournaments to seeded and coming somewhere I have never been before. It's a change for me, and obviously I have a lot more media responsibilities and things like that and a lot of things -- my life has changed drastically.

"I'm going through a change, and sometimes it doesn't click right away. But I'm working on it, and, I mean, I don't think that -- I don't really feel any pressure. Serena Williams is No. 1 in the world. I don't feel any pressure."

Stephens is certainly not used to all the attention and having the media follow her every move.

"I wish you guys would all just forget about me and just let me do whatever," she kidded. "That's obviously not going to happen. I'm definitely working with you guys and hanging in there."

Lest we not get caught up in all the hype just yet, considering Stephens has yet to reach an WTA-level final, settling instead for four semifinal appearances in her still-young career.

The athletic star, who will turn 20 next month, has an all-court game that features a huge-swinging forehand that can produce some phenomenal winners, and a powerful two-handed backhand.

But she's actually in a bit of a funk right now, having dropped three of her last four matches since stunning Serena in Melbourne (although she had been nursing a strained abdominal muscle, which forced her to pull out of the United States' first-round Fed Cup tie against Italy two weeks ago).

The 5-foot-7, 130-pound Florida native is the daughter of late NFL running back John Stephens, who was killed in a car accident on Sept. 1, 2009, just days before Sloane began playing in the juniors tournament at the U.S. Open.

Did You Know?: In 1988, Stephens' mother, Sybil Smith, became the first African-American female swimmer to be named First Team All-American in Division I history while attending Boston University.

Back to tennis.

Stephens will return to the court in two weeks in the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, Calif., which serves as one of the biggest tournaments outside the Grand Slams. She suffered a second-round setback there a year ago.

Surely she'll have her sights set on the second week this time around.