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Cincinnati tournament favorite of teen sensation Stephens

Just as she did when turning the tennis world upside down at the Australian Open in January, teen sensation Sloane Stephens said she will consider hiding an autographed tennis ball on the grounds of the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Cincinnati.

And like in Sydney, the lucky fan who finds the ball could end up with box seats in Stephens’ personal viewing section.

“Yeah, I’ll do it at any tournament that I have not a lot of people coming to,” the Plantation, Fla., native said Tuesday. “It’s a good contest. It’s really fun.”

All others can order their tickets to the Western & Southern Open now. Tickets went on sale for the Emirates Airline U.S. Open Series, including the W & S Open, on Tuesday. The Western & Southern Open runs Aug. 10-18.

The U.S. Open Series links nine ATP and WTA hard-court tournaments across the country together with a points champion, ending with the U.S. Open.

Stephens, who turns 20 on March 20, is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Cincinnati. She participated in Kids’ Day last year and reached the third round as a wild-card entry before falling to top-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.

It was her victory over role model Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals that helped vault Stephens to her current ranking of No. 17 in the world. On Monday, tennis great John McEnroe called Stephens the future of U.S. women’s tennis.

She’s traded tweets with former NBA great Shaquille O’Neal and current star Dirk Nowitzki. Her favorite tweet came from Grammy winner and Springfield native John Legend, who she wants to sing at her wedding. Legend, coincidentally, shares the same first name as her late father, one-time New England Patriots running back John Stephens. Legend also tweeted he had Stephens’ football card when he was a kid.

Stephens said she attempts to shrug off her quick rise to stardom. Well, except for that tweet from Legend.

“Definitely no pressure. Just having fun and enjoying myself,”said Stephens, whose mother Sybil Smith was an All-American swimmer at Boston University. “It’s just another opinion. I’ll take it as it is and keep going.”

The Western & Southern Open is one of five events in the world (not counting the Grand Slams) that hold an ATP Masters 1000 event and a Premier 5 WTA event the same week at the same venue. The top 20 men’s players in the world and 19 of the top 20 women’s players committed to the 2012 tournament.

Stephens, who calls the W&S Open her favorite tournament outside of the Grand Slams, offered her best sales pitch to promote the August event.

“That’s easy. All the top players play there. It’s a beautiful event and run so well,” Stephens said. “It’s an awesome event and I’ll be there, of course, and that’s why you should buy tickets.”

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