Sloane Stephens has to be one of the more motivated players on the women's tour right now. The American is still coming back from injury and her ranking entering Cincinnati was just 151st in the world. However she was in the Toronto semifinals last weekend and now she is into the Cincinnati semifinals. Even if she advances no further then she projects to a ranking inside the top 90 on the WTA Tour on Monday. It was literally just two weeks ago when she was ranked 957th in the world so she truly is coming back from the fringes quickly.

Stephens goes for top 50

On Saturday she will face a player that is more central to ranking discussions at the moment. Simona Halep of Romania may still emerge as the World No. 1 after Cincinnati. She will need a title at this point to do so as Karolina Pliskova, the current No. 1, did not fall in the early rounds but instead also has made the semifinals. But for fans of Stephens, the way the American is playing a title certainly is out of the question at the Western & Southern Open. If she should win the tournament outright then Stephens would be looking at a place in the top 50.

If she should fall in the final then the American should be about 65th in the world come Monday.

The good news with getting ranked that high is that she won't be so dependent on wild cards for tournament entries anymore. She's fortunate to be American in the sense that there are a lot of American tournaments on tour. With wild cards generally, albeit not always, going to home-country nationals Stephens is a candidate for many if her ranking does not give her a direct entry. Cincinnati is in fact a case in point as Stephens is in the draw with a wild card.

Stephens has won through a tough draw

That the American has made deep runs in back-to-back tournaments in back-to-back weeks is also a very positive development for her. She didn't have a bye in Toronto and she didn't have one in Cincinnati either. Players often falter when their schedule is match-heavy in a short period of time, but there has been no hint of slowing down for Stephens. That attests to the physical condition that she is in right now. Additionally, her draw in Cincinnati could be noted as a difficult one.

She has survived four matches through Lucie Safarova, Petra Kvitova, Ekaterina Makarova, and Julia Goerges. There isn't a weak player in that quartet.

But as often is the case in tennis, winning four or five matches before the semifinals can be easier combined than winning the last two. With a draw through Halep and then either Pliskova or Garbine Muguruza, Stephens looks like the last favorite to win Cincinnati this weekend. However the American does appear to be getting back to her best tennis and that will make her an interesting player to watch at the 2017 US Open.

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