Singapore | Stephens battles back to beat Pliskova
Sloane Stephens battled back from a bagelled first set deficit to beat Karolina Pliskova in the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
The win advanced the American into the year-end finals for the first time in her career, 0-6 6-4 6-1, after losing 8 games in a row at the start, and standing a whisker away from defeat.
I had a bit of an adrenaline dump after I finally won one game Sloane Stephens
“I came out here a little bit nervous, and I wasn’t really feeling the ball,” Stephens admitted in her on-court interview.
“Obviously, I knew playing Kaja [Pliskova] was going to be a really tough match.
“I mean, when you say you’re going to ‘give someone a lesson’ – she was absolutely working me today.”
The victory sends Stephens into the championship match, where Elina Svitolina awaits as both players seek to lift the Billie Jean King trophy for the first time.
Despite going through the Red Group with a perfect 3-0 record, Stephens couldn’t find any answers against Pliskova’s inspired start.
The Czech’s all-out aggression and expert court coverage earned her an early break for a 2-0 lead.
The tall Czech marched ahead to close out the set with her 6th game in a row, putting herself halfway into the championship match.
Stephens put pressure on Pliskova at the start of the second, but her break opportunities went begging as Pliskova once again powered ahead, breaking Stephens and opening up a 2-0 lead.
With Pliskova barrelling towards the finish line, Stephens changed her tactics, putting more pace on her first serve and dialling up the aggression.
She was immediately rewarded with a break back, her first game of the match to make it 1-2.
“I had a bit of an adrenaline dump after I finally won one game,” Stephens said.
“I was really fired up, so I was like ‘come on, let’s do this. I can win one game, maybe I can win two, then three.’ And I just started to feel the ball a little better.
“Again, all credit to her. I just tried to stay in it, and get as many balls back as I could. I’m just really proud of my fight today.”
It galvanised Stephens, and she reeled off another 2 games in a row to take a lead for the first time at 3-2.
Wrestling to gain momentum, Stephens emerged with the set and sent the match into a decider, which she fairly flew through as Pliskova’s challenge faded.
After trading breaks at the beginning, The American rattled off 5 games in a row, sealing the match after just under 2 hours to book her spot in the Singapore final.
She finished the match with 18 winners and 31 double faults to Pliskova’s 21 and 40, respectively.
There were some worrying service stats for ‘Ace Queen’ Pliskova, who didn’t hit a single ace, struck 4 double faults and served at 45%, while Stephens was serving at 79%.
As a result, the American was able to break 7 times from 12 chances, and Pliskova only 6 from 9.