Sloane Stephens has a quandry to resolve.

stephensA500Until she was 13, Sloane Stephens knew far less about her father, John, than many football fans who remembered his blazing start as a running back with the New England Patriots and his later stints with the Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs.

Sloane Stephens must decide whether to compete at the U.S. Open juniors competition.

Sloane Stephens’s father, John, a former Patriots star, died Tuesday.

Three years ago, the 16-year-old Stephens, a rising tennis star, embarked on a phone relationship with her father that evolved into a full-blown friendship, their bond forged by their similar charismatic personalities and prodigious athletic feats.

Stephens could only recall having met with her father in person twice, maybe three times, and now, two weeks after their last phone conversation, she has to decide whether to pay him one final visit.

On Tuesday, John Stephens, 43, died in a car accident in his native Louisiana. His funeral is there next Tuesday, two days after the start of the United States Open juniors competition, which leaves Stephens with an excruciating decision.

Does she drop out of the tournament or forgo saying her final goodbyes to her father and keep her eye on the first-place prize? Stephens, a mobile, attacking backcourt specialist, is considered a strong contender in singles after reaching the semifinals at the French Open juniors and the quarterfinals at the Wimbledon juniors.

To complicate matters, on Friday, while scouring the Internet for stories on the father she now will never fully know, Stephens discovered that her father had another side.

“I told her she’s free to do whatever she wants to do,” Stephens’s mother, Sybil Smith, who was divorced from Sloane’s father, said Friday afternoon. “I think right now she feels that the safest place for her is on the tennis court.”

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