Sloane Stephens won the Miami Open for her first title of the year and was delighted to have won her home town tournament albeit tinged with sadness, for the event will be moving to a new site next year, 18 miles away at the NFL Dolphins Stadium.
“This place is pretty special to me,” Stephens, who had played there as a junior and lives in nearby Fort Lauderdale, said. “I’m definitely happy I could be the last person to win here. I’ve had some amazing experiences here, and I’ll definitely miss it.”
There were pre-match jitters but once I won the first set, I was able to settle Sloane Stephens
Stephens, the reigning US Open champion who, following that victory has suffered a loss of form losing her next eight matches, has certainly made a full recovery during her time at Crandon Park.
Seeded 13, the 25-year-old, following her first-round bye, knocked out wild card Ajia Tomljanovic (6-3 6-3), Monica Niculescu (6-7(1) 6-3 4-0 retd), Wimbledon champion, seeded 3, Garbine Muguruza, (6-3 6-4) and then both two-time grand slam champions, tenth seeded Angelique Kerber (6-1 6-2) and wild carded Victoria Azarenka 3-6 6-2 6-1 to make the final.
Jelena Ostapenko, seeded 6, awaited her in the title round, the Latvian French Open champion having progressed through her half of the draw without dropping a set.
But Ostapenko was unable to maintain the form that saw her collect the scalps of ninth seed Petra Kvitova (7-6(4) 6-3) and fourth seed Elina Svitolina (7-6(3) 7-6(5)) as her usually aggressive play, on this occasion, failed to get past the defensive play of the American who repeatedly extended rallies until her opponent made a mistake.
The finalists traded breaks for four games, and Stephens was broken twice more when serving for the first set.
She wavered again leading 6-2 in the tiebreaker, committing unforced errors to squander consecutive set points and breathed a sigh of relief when Ostapenko dumped an easy backhand into the net to lose the set.
That effort took its toll for th 20-year-old was not the same player in the second set as Stephens, after 92-minutes swept up the last six games to claim the title 7-6(5) 6-1.
The stats reflected the more aggressive play from Ostapenko as she produced 26 winners to Stephens’ 6 but on the debit side, she made 48 unforced errors to the 21 by Stephens.
“She was moving really well,” Ostapenko admitted. “Sometimes I was going for an aggressive winner when I didn’t have to. I was sometimes missing shots I was normally making this week.
“Now I can prepare for the clay but I have some time before going back to the French Open and to think about what it will be like to defend my title.”
In turn Stephens was aware of what to expect. “I knew I would have to run a lot of balls down, you have to accept she will hit great shots so I didn’t worry about that too much,” the delighted champion, who will break into the top ten for the first time, said.
“There were pre-match jitters but once I won the first set, I was able to settle,” she added. “I have wanted to be in the top 10 for so long. It’s very exciting.”
Referring to her loss of form since last September’s heyday, she added: “Even when I am down or people are doubting me, there are so many great opportunities out there I didn’t worry.”
During the presentation ceremony, James Blake, the tournament director was greeted with boos when he thanked the crowd and hoped to see them next year at the Hard Rock Stadium!
Stephens was diplomatic. “There are so many good things about the tournament – the Iguanas, there is a great pizza place too. Key Biscayne is a hidden gem but I am sure the new place will be great.”