- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2012

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - Sloane Stephens says there’s no need for hand-wringing over the future of American women’s tennis in the post-Williams era _ the kids are going to be all right.

The 18-year-old Floridan, who reached a career-high ranking of No. 89 last fall, moved into the second round of the Australian Open on Tuesday with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Silvia Soler-Espinosa of Spain.

Four other American women are also through to the second round _ Serena Williams, Christina McHale, Vania King and Jamie Hampton, a qualifier ranked No. 144 who had won only one WTA-level match coming into the Australian Open.

“When (the Williams sisters) stop playing tennis, there’ll be someone else to take their spot,” said Stephens, who also reached the third round of the U.S. Open last year. “You’re kind of like searching for someone to be there right now and I don’t think that’s going to happen. But there’s a lot of us, so who knows who could break through.”

She says now that a few of the younger Americans have broken into the top 100 _ McHale (No. 42), Irina Falconi (No. 81) and herself _ there’s more competition among them, which will only make them better in the long run.

“Definitely when we have camps and we’re practicing together, it’s serious, it’s no joke. On changeovers, it’ll be ha-ha, hee-hee, but when it’s time to play, it’s like, OK, I’m going to cut you.”

Just because they’re starting to come into their own, though, doesn’t mean they’re not still in awe of the elder stateswoman of the tour: Serena. Stephens was so star-struck at a recent tournament, she almost didn’t say hello.

“She was really nice,” Stephens says. “I don’t think she knew who I was.”


BROTHERLY LOVE: Rift? What rift?

Andy Roddick believes that talk of tension between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer has been completely overblown.

Earlier this week, Nadal criticized Federer in the Spanish media for not doing enough to push the players’ demands for changes to the men’s game, allowing others to “burn themselves” to make conditions better for everybody.

The Spaniard later apologized for airing his disagreement with Federer in public.

“Those guys have been the model of a respectful rivalry in sports, so for it to be represented any differently is unfortunate,” Roddick said Tuesday after his first-round win at the Australian Open.

“I think this is all new territory for us. I think, if anything, it probably taught us that we have to choose our words very wisely right now when talking about it because it is a sensitive issue.”

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