Sloane Stephens: ‘You should be scared of the living, not the dead’

Last year’s French Open finalist talks to Tumaini Carayol about death, illness, maturity and discovering the focus that has often eluded her

Sloane Stephens grew up surrounded by dead bodies. Her extended family owns a funeral home, so her formative years were spent in freezers filled with corpses, dressing bodies for funerals and driving the family hearses. She is banned from greeting mourners because she once cried in front of a group of them. She gleefully lists cremation and embalming as her interests. And, yes, she knows that she is strange.

When I asked the 2017 US Open champion earlier this year about living with death, her answer reflected her tendency to tackle serious subjects with irreverence: “A lot of people are scared of dead bodies but you can’t be scared!” she said. “They’re like the only thing you shouldn’t be scared of because they can’t do anything to you. You should be scared of the people walking around because you don’t know what’s gonna happen, right?”

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