Visit the Great Euro Circus, they said. A nice way to spend your day off, they said. The perfect way to relax before the Hobart International gets going, they said.
What they hadn’t said to Sloane Stephens was that her visit would end with a cameo appearance as a glamorous assistant to a knife-thrower. Not exactly how most people unwind on their day off.
But Stephens, a big fan of the Big Top, leapt at the chance – and then stood very, very still as eight blades lodged themselves inches from her head and body. There may have been a yelp or three, but be honest – can you blame her?
Death-defying stunts aside, Stephens is a fan of the chilled out way of life in Hobart. Back in Tasmania for a third time, the 2013 semi-finalist particularly appreciates being away from Melbourne and the spotlight surrounding the year’s first Grand Slam.
“I like it here,” she admits. “It’s small, it’s quiet, it’s easy-going ahead of the Australian Open – it’s not too crazy or too hectic.
“I have a few favourite restaurants, I know the courts pretty well, and I know my way around. Hobart’s been good to me so far, so I’ll keep coming back until that changes.”
Returning to the Domain Tennis Centre as the No.5 seed, Stephens will face Romania’s Monica Niculescu in the first round. “It’s going to be a tough match,” she admits. “I’ve played her a couple of times – I’m looking forward to it, and I’m sure it’ll be a battle.”
A battle may be exactly what Stephens needs to see where her game is. After a tough 2014 season that was cut short in September by a wrist injury, and saw two coaches come and go, the world No.35 will hope her fledgling partnership with Nick Saviano quickly blossoms before she heads to Melbourne.
“At the start of the year it’s always tough to get your momentum,” Stephens said. “But playing a lot of matches and competing, I think, is the most important thing. If I get a lot of matches here going into Melbourne, that’ll be a good thing.”
As for goals for 2015, Stephens is playing it safe: “I just want to have a really competitive season, play a lot of matches, stay healthy the whole year.”
Stephens will also play doubles in Hobart with fellow American Taylor Townsend – something the duo have been trying to work out for quite some time.
“We tried to play a lot last season, so this year we decided we were going to make it happen,” Stephens admitted.
So what is it about the circus that keeps Stephens coming back? “It’s just fun,” she said. “I like seeing people doing crazy stuff with their bodies.”
Having retired from the carnival trade in one piece, Stephens’ thoughts can turn to reaching the sharp end of the Hobart International before the tennis circus rolls into Melbourne Park next week.