- Associated Press - Thursday, January 17, 2013

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - One of the things Sloane Stephens likes about winning at the Australian Open is that her tech-savvy grandparents can keep watching her from back home.

“My grandpa texted me,” the 19-year-old Stephens said. “He said they stayed up again to watch me `on the machine’ as my grandpa calls it.”

That’s the computer.

Grandpa got to see Stephens advance Thursday to the third round, beating France’s Kristina Mladenovic 6-4, 6-3. It’s one of many reasons to be proud of her.

Stephens is the No. 3-ranked American woman and has climbed to a career high world ranking of No. 25. Her ascent has been quick after ending 2012 ranked 38th, which made her the youngest player inside the year-end top 50.

Last year, Stephens was one of the up-and-coming players to watch. She reached the third round at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and the fourth round at the French Open. She has achieved her best result in Melbourne after exiting in the second round at last year’s Australian Open.

For Stephens, Thursday’s match was personal.

She has played the 19 -year-old Mladenovic on big stages before, namely the semifinals of the 2009 French Open juniors tournament, where she lost.

Asked if she remembered that match, Stephens replied: “How could I forget?”

“That match made my career. I was devastated,” said Stephens, who is bubbly and charmingly confident. “I cried for like a month after that.

“But if we had never played before, it would have been super difficult to get out there and play now, so I think that kind of helped.”

By her accounting, Stephens “didn’t play that great” on Thursday. The 98th-ranked Mladenovic was hitting big serves and big forehands and Stephens had trouble finding her rhythm. She felt her mind wander but then she steered it back to the game.

When asked how she pulled herself out of tight spots, Stephens talked more about her mindset than her tennis.

“I think it’s a mixture of things. Concentration, confidence, willing to run every ball down,” she said. “Today I was determined to get the next ball back.”

Staying focused leads to other rewards, she smiled.

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