Issued on • Modified
Stephens reels in Azarenka to reach Miami final
Sloane Stephens recovered from a set and a break down to surge into the final of the Miami Open on Thursday night. Viktoria Azarenka had won the first set 6-3 and seized the American's opening service game in the second set to lead 2-0. But from that vantage point, the former world number one crumbled.
Stephens notched up 10 consecutive games to take the second 6-2 and a 4-0 stranglehold on the decider. Azarenka reduced the arrears, but there was no fightback as Stephens claimed the set 6-1 to the delight of the partisans at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne.
"This feels like a home final for me," said Stephens who was raised 35 kilometres away in Plantation. "We used to come down here all the time and play when I was younger. It's always amazing for my friends and family when I play here. They are out in full force."
It will be the sixth final of Stephens' career and her first since she won her first Grand Slam event at the US Open in September. Since that triumph at Flushing Meadows, she has suffered a slump in form that led to early exits at tournaments in Sydney and the Australian Open.
"At the end of last season, my heart was there, but my body physically was not," said the 25-year-old. "And I think that was the most important thing, getting myself back in the best shape that I could be in, making sure that I was pain-free, that I wasn't going to get injured again, and making sure I was taking care of myself.
"That was the biggest part about ending last season. And then going into this season, I knew that I didn't have the greatest off-season, so for me, the two matches that I lost the first part of the year in Australia, not a big deal. If you're not 100%, you can't expect much.
"I took the time to get myself together and I guess there has been some good results."
America v Latvia final
Stephens, seeded 13th, will play the sixth seed Jelena Ostapenko in Saturday's final. The 20-year-old Latvian thwarted hopes of an all-American showdown with her straight sets victory over qualifier Danielle Collins.
The 24-year-old had a set point when serving for the opening set at 6-5 but she could not exploit her chance. Ostapenko eventually levelled at 6-6 and swept through the tiebreak to win it seven points to one.
Ostapenko broke early in the second and nursed her advantage with her trademark sledgehammer groundstrokes. She broke Collins again to take the set 6-3.
Saturday's final will be the first meeting between Stephens and Ostapenko. The Latvian has been in the top 10 since 2017. Stephens will enter the upper echelons of the circuit for the first time following her run to the final.