Singapore | Stephens prevails over Osaka
The 2017 US Open champion took out the reigning 2018 US Open champion in their opening round-robin clash at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global on Monday evening.
Naomi is a great player and playing with a lot of confidence right now and having an awesome season, so I'm just really happy to be through. We played a really good, competitive match so it's always an honour to play with somebody that good. I just competed really well, I never gave up. I knew that I was going to have to play some really good tennis to beat her so I just stayed tough and tried to stay as positive as I could just to take my opportunities when they presented themselves. Sloane Stephens
Both first-timers in Singapore, No 5 seed Sloane Stephens overcame Naomi Osaka, the 3rd seed, 7-5 4-6 6-1, in the Red Group, in a big-hitting match that lasted 2 hours and 22 minutes.
The result extended the American’s head-to-head record over the Japanese to 2-0.
Stephens, who won the Miami Open and reached her second Grand Slam final at Roland Garros this year, broke Osaka 7 times out of 19 break points, winning nearly two-thirds of points when returning her opponent’s second serves.
Osaka, who also triumphed in the Indian Wells championship alongside her US Open title, fired 7 aces but was undone by 46 unforced errors.
After a nervy exchange of breaks to open the match, the players settled into solid play on serve, comfortably holding through to 3-3.
Stephens then broke an-error prone Osaka to jump ahead 4-3, but she failed to consolidate, double-faulting twice in a row from 40-30 to hand Osaka a break point, which the Japanese converted with a forehand winner into the corner to level the set at 4-4.
Osaka used her powerful serve to erase a break point against her, but Stephens got another chance to break at 5-5, which she claimed after a rally ended with Osaka plopping a backhand miscue into the net.
Stephens needed 3 set points to close out the set at 6-5, before Osaka fired an error into the net at the end of a rally off the forehand, to hand it to her.
Osaka had 15 unforced errors in that opening set, and could only manufacture 3 winners off the ground.
Stephens seemed to be pulling the match her way at the start of the second, overcoming 4 break points with outlandishly incredible defence en route to a hold for 2-2.
She then had 2 break points in the next game before Osaka fired a number of winners from her backhand side to hold for 3-2.
With her backhand serving her well, Osaka kept the following game close and, suddenly, Stephens double-faulted on break point to provide her with an imposing 4-2 lead.
Osaka nearly handed the break back, but staved off a break point with a great serve, eventually holding for 5-2.
Serving for the set at 5-3, Osaka faltered, blasting a forehand swing volley into the net to drop the game.
As Stephens’ double-faults returned with a vengeance, the Japanese, aided by two in the next game, including on her second set point, levelled the match at one set apiece.
Stephens immediately regrouped and dominated proceedings in the third set, as the American steeled herself and Osaka’s errors mounted.
A backhand service return winner into the corner on Stephens’ 3rd break point of the opening game determined the tone of the decider, and after holding for 2-0, saving a break point in the process, the American was on her way to the win.
Osaka saved a break point to hold for 2-1, but that would be the extent of her success in the final set, as the Stephens defence was too much for the Japanese as the match progressed.
A sterling running crosscourt forehand by the American forced an error on the 3rd break point of Osaka’s next service game, giving her a 4-1 lead.
A hold to love for 5-1 put Stephens firmly in the driver’s seat.
Serving to stay in the match, Osaka saved a match point with an ace, but the Japanese crucially double-faulted on the American’s second opportunity, to put Stephens up with a 1-0 match record in the Red Group, after the first day of their group’s encounters.
“Naomi is a great player and playing with a lot of confidence right now and having an awesome season, so I’m just really happy to be through,” said Stephens.
“We played a really good, competitive match so it’s always an honour to play with somebody that good.
“I just competed really well, I never gave up. I knew that I was going to have to play some really good tennis to beat her so I just stayed tough and tried to stay as positive as I could just to take my opportunities when they presented themselves.”
Either top seed Angelique Kerber or 2018 WTA Most Improved Player Kiki Bertens will join Stephens at the top of the Red Group table, as they faced off in a later round-robin encounter on Monday.
Bertens is also making her WTA Finals debut, meaning World No 2 Kerber must battle three debutantes during the round-robin portion of the event