Sloane Stephens is in her first final, at the Miami Open, since winning the U.S. Open last summer. That’s especially significant, considering this tournament is the first time she’s strung together more than two wins in a row since that grand slam victory. (She won two and only two rounds at Acapulco as the No. 1 seed.)
But if her slump was cause for much consternation, her showing in Miami is reassuring. She’s beaten three grand slam winners—Garbine Muguruza and Angelique Kerber in straight sets, and Victoria Azarenka, whose comeback from childbirth has been stymied by a custody battle, in three sets—and will have to do it one more time, against 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko, to win the title.
Ostapenko hasn’t dropped a set all tournament. And five of her 10 sets have been won in tiebreaks, an indication perhaps, that the 20-year-old with a well-earned reputation as a big-hitting, high-risk, high-reward player who stormed through Roland Garros last year racking unprecedented winners along with plenty of errors, has settled on a more balanced approach. In her semifinal match against UVa grad and relative unknown Danielle Collins, Ostapenko managed to limit her errors while still hitting for the lines.
But Stephens, whose speed and anticipation allow her to get to balls that would be winners against other players, will force Ostapenko to hit that extra shot, upping the likelihood of errors. And if she does slip up, Stephens will be ready to pounce. Down a set and a break to Azarenka in the semifinal on Thursday, Stephens clawed her way back into the match after Azarenka, up 2-0 in the second set, double faulted and committed two unforced errors. Stephens stormed back to win nine straight games, taking the second set and a comfortable third set lead before closing it out 3-6, 6-2, 6-1.
“In the second...I was just, like, ‘Okay, well, I didn’t really do anything wrong.’ I wasn’t playing terribly,” Stephens said. “I had a lot of errors, but I didn’t feel like I was just not in the match. So I knew if I just kind of stayed with it I would be able to get my opportunities, and I did.”
The final is tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET.