By Tucker Verdi
Sloane Stephens is back in a final for the first time since claiming her maiden Grand Slam at the US Open in 2017. Her 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 win over Victoria Azarenka propels her into her first premier mandatory final at the 2018 Miami Open.
It was a tale of two sets: a composed Azarenka and a frustrated Stephens in the first, and a dialed-in Stephens and an inconsistent Azarenka in the second.
And in the third, it was Sloane Stephens’ court and Azarenka was just playing on it. Owing to her “hip flexor pulling”, Azarenka wasn’t able to match Stephens’ speed, power, and mobility in the final set.
“I think for me that’s obviously a good win,” Stephens said after the match. “It’s someone I have lost three times before prior to last week [in Indian Wells]. So I had to fight, and I had to play some of my best tennis today.”
Stephens wasn’t playing her best tennis early on, being broken four times in the first set. The Plantation, Florida-native kept her composure, though.
“I knew if I just kind of stayed with it I would be able to get my opportunities, and I did.”
She found her groove down a break in the second, breaking Azarenka and holding serve to level at 2-all. From there, the 25-year-old went on a tear and never let up, losing only one game en route to the victory.
“She played well,” a dejected Azarenka said post-match. “She pushed me. She took all the opportunities she had. I had so many, still, still had so many opportunities in the second set, and I didn't take them. So it's my fault.”
Stephens had a miracle run at the 2017 US Open, capturing the title unseeded and with a protected ranking due to her having foot surgery in January of that year. Since then, the awe of the win has led to pretty up-and-down play from Stephens.
“I knew that I didn't have the greatest offseason, so for me, the two matches that I lost the first part of the year in Australia, not a big deal. Like, if you're not 100%, you can't expect much.
“I think now I took the time to get myself together. Yeah, I guess there has [sic] been some good results.”
A good result is putting it mildly. Stephens will look to win her 6th WTA title on Saturday and keep her perfect record in final appearances.
Jelena Ostapenko or Danielle Collins will have something to say about that, without a doubt. She will face one of them Saturday at 1:00 PM.