- Associated Press - Thursday, January 24, 2013

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - Sloane Stephens didn’t just achieve her best Grand Slam result by reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open _ she’s also one up on her good friend Sam Querrey.

Stephens and Querrey, who lost in the third round of men’s singles, share a coach, David Nainkin. They’ve developed a good-natured rivalry about who’s rising faster in the rankings.

With her run to the semifinals at Melbourne Park, Stephens will improve to No. 17 from No. 29 in the rankings next week, while Querrey is not expected to rise much higher than his current No. 22.

“Sam Querrey sent me a message and said, `You might be ahead of me on Monday, but in three weeks, I’m going to be ahead of you,’” the 19-year-old Stephens said after her straight-sets loss to No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals on Thursday. “I have to keep working because I want to stay in front of him.”

The Americans haven’t made a wager over who will be ranked higher by the end of the year _ there’s just pride at stake, Stephens said.

“Obviously egos are big,” she said earlier this week. “This is tennis, so somebody’s going to win.”

Stephens was disappointed she didn’t follow up her big win over 15-time major winner Serena Williams in the quarterfinals with a better match against Azarenka, but her overall performance at the tournament far exceeded her expectations at the start of the season.

“I’m obviously coming out of the Australian summer with amazing momentum, knowing I can pretty much hang in there with anybody and even beat some of the best players,” she said. “It’s definitely a good feeling.”


DOWN UNDER: It can’t be a good feeling for David Ferrer: Another loss in a Grand Slam semifinal by the same humbling score.

Ferrer was defeated by top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Australian Open on Thursday 6-2, 6-2, 6-1. He lost by the same score to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the French Open last year on his favored clay surface.

For all his success on the court _ he won a tour-leading seven titles last year _ the Spaniard hasn’t been able to get past the semifinals at majors.

He lost in the semifinals of the 2012 and 2007 U.S. Open to Djokovic, and fell in the semifinals of the 2011 Australian Open to Andy Murray.

A clearly dejected Ferrer tried to explain how frustrating it feels to get so close to a Grand Slam final, only to be beaten each time by one of the so-called Big Four of men’s tennis _ Djokovic, Murray, Nadal and Roger Federer.

“It’s difficult to do one final of a Grand Slam,” the fifth-ranked Ferrer said. “When I did the semifinal in Roland Garros, Australian Open, U.S. Open, it was a loss to the best three players, no?

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