Sloane Stephens back with IMG

Sloane Stephens has made a lot of changes in 2019.

She ended her successful relationship with coach Kamau Murray. And now she has returned to the IMG/WME agency.

Stephens signed with John Tobias/Lagardère as a junior. She went to IMG in Jan. 2016. But that lasted only a year before she returned to Tobias – now with TLA Worldwide.

IMG also has added agent Matt Fawcett, who was with CAA before it dissolved its tennis division last month.

We’re told the only client Fawcett is bringing over from CAA is Taylor Fritz. He will work with Stephens on tennis-related matters.

Canadian in NYC gets wild card

Jack Mingjie Lin had a good junior career, well supported by Tennis Canada’s national training program. He reached the top 50 in the ITF rankings and made one junior Slam main draw, at the 2016 Australian Open.

But like most of his fellow NTC players, he went the college route – Ivy League at that – playing for Columbia.

A perk of being an East Coast college player is a tournament in December, whose prize is a wild card into the New York Open main draw.

Lin won it, and he’ll make his ATP debut against a qualifier Tuesday.

Robson returns in Shrewsbury

Time flies.

Former British prodigy Laura Robson turned … 25 Jan. 21.

And after hip surgery last summer, the former world No. 27 is making yet another injury comeback.

Robson has a wild card into qualifying at the $60,000 ITF in Shrewsbury, England next week. It will be her first singles appearance since May 2018.

She played two doubles matches during the 2018 grass-court warmup season. By Wimbledon, she was ambling around the All-England Club on crutches.

Robson is working with BT Sport on the Fed Cup event from Bath, England this week – so she’ll have to switch gears quickly.

Doubles star Herbert surging in singles

An underappreciated story in this early part of the 2019 season is how well Pierre-Hugues Herbert is playing – in singles.

Despite his doubles renown, the Frenchman is only 27 – nearing his peak.

Herbert won the doubles in Doha (with David Goffin) and the Australian Open with Nicolas Mahut. He’s 10-0 to start 2019.

But Herbert also defeated Dominic Thiem, Hyeon Chung and Sam Querrey in singles during the Aussie summer.

On Friday, he upset No. 3 seed Denis Shapovalov in super-solid fashion, 7-5, 7-6 (4) to reach the Montpellier semis.

He’ll break into the top 40 in singles this week, regardless of what happens this weekend.

Next week is ATP dropout week

We’re two weeks beyond the first Grand Slam of the season.

But the number of no-shows next week is concerning.

Earlier, Richard Gasquet and Kyle Edmund had pulled out of the 500-level event in Rotterdam with longer-term issues.

Grigor Dimitrov is out with a shoulder problem. So is Alexander Zverev. Nick Kyrgios cited a knee issue.

And Friday, Marin Cilic also sent his regrets, still dealing with a knee issue dating back to last season.

Top seed Kevin Anderson and American Jack Sock pulled out of New York along with Alex de Minaur and Feliciano Lopez.

Leather required for Fed Cup party

Female tennis players spend so much time in tennis gear they generally relish the opportunities to get fancied up for tournament player parties and Fed Cup dinners.

But the American squad hosting Australia in Asheville, NC this weekend decided to reverse that, going for a more casual look.

On first review, the thought was … “Hmmm”.

But on second look, how sweet are those leather coats and boots?

Australia obviously got the heads’ up. Because their matching jackets were leagues above some of their “air hostess” costumes from past years.

Germany leathered first, though.

Sofia defeat a victory for Zimonjic

Nenad Zimonjic, who had bilateral hip replacement last June, looked impressive as he returned to the match court for the first time Wednesday in Sofia, Bulgaria.

The new hips weren’t the only challenge. Zimonjic is 42, and he hadn’t played a match since Munich last May, on clay.

The speed of the indoor hard court for his return (with world No. 3 Mate Pavic) against the No. 3 seeds, Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan, made for quick points. 

But Zimonjic acquitted himself well in a 7-6 (2), 6-2 defeat. 

It had to feel like a monumental victory, just the same.

Players warned of Acapulco safety issues

The joint ATP/WTA Tour event in Acapulco is a popular one – in part due to the beachy off-court attractions.

But the WTA has warned its players of “recent high violent crime rates” in sections of the city. It has “strongly recommended” caution and to remain on site or hotel property while at the tournament.

It also advises players to schedule their airport arrivals/departures during daylight hours, if possible, and to only use tournament transportation.

Among those entered are Sloane Stephens, Donna Vekic and Danielle Collins – along with Rafael Nadal, Alexander Zverev on the men’s side.

Bemelmans: lucky five times in one year

Belgian lefty Ruben Bemelmans was a lucky loser for the fifth time in less than a year before being beaten by Marcos Baghdatis in the first round of Montpellier Tuesday.

Some big ones, too: Indian Wells, Roland Garros and US Open, along with St. Petersburg.

Bemelmans played his first pro event in 2005. Only once before (in 2010) was he a lucky loser.

Meanwhile, celebrated Slam lucky loser Peter Polansky had five in 2018 (all four majors, plus Delray Beach). Other than the 2017 Australian Open he, too, only had one other pass at the ATP level – also in 2010.


Isner, Kyrgios spice up Dallas dubs field

The top-ranked singles player at the Dallas Challenger is No. 82 Mackenzie McDonald.

Given the prize money is $135,400, that’s rough. Although 23 of the 46 non-qualifying spots in the draw are taken by Americans, so it’s a great vehicle for the home boys to earn ranking points.

But the tournament added value as John Isner is playing doubles (with the retired Alex Kuznetsov) at a Challenger for the first time in a decade.

Another plus: Isner’s Laver Cup teammate Nick Kyrgios also is playing, with American Mitchell Krueger.

Tough draws. They’ll play the No. 1 and No. 2 seeded teams.