Sloane Stephens took complete control of her semifinal clash to reach her first Miami Open final on Thursday, with the US Open champion rallying from a set down to beat former world number one Victoria Azarenka in Florida.
Azarenka, back playing on tour following a lengthy legal dispute with her ex-partner over the custody of their son, was a set and a break up in the semifinal as she edged close to reaching a fourth final at the tournament, though the American roared back and dropped just two more games. The 13th seed eventually prevailed 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in two hours and nine minutes to reach her first final since Flushing Meadows last September.
Impressive Stephens storms back to end Azarenka’s run
Stephens and Azarenka had previously met in Indian Wells less than a fortnight before this encounter, with the American prevailing in straight sets in California, though it seemed after the first hour of this match that it would be the Belarusian, a three-time Miami Open champion, who would win this time.
Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, played for the first time since Wimbledon at Indian Wells, and this run meant she was in a tournament semifinal for the first time since reaching the last four here in 2016. After being pulled back from 3-0 to 3-3 in the opening set, the wildcard did not allow Stephens to build on her momentum, breaking for a 4-3 lead and then breaking to love at 5-3 up to seal the opening set.
After a strong end to the first set, it seemed that Azarenka was going to run away with the match as she broke early on for a 2-0 lead in set two. However, despite struggling so far, the American was able to find some inspiration to get back on level terms, and then began to control the match. Playing much better than she previously had, Stephens broke for a second time for a 3-2 lead, and then raced through the remainder of the set to take the match to a decider.
After a strong start, Azarenka was now making too many errors and was starting to struggle physically, and Stephens was making her pay for it. The 13th seed was now playing some incredibly strong tennis, and eventually won ten games in a row as she stormed to a 4-0 lead in the decider. Azarenka was able to stop the rot as she held for 1-4, though Stevens did not look back as she held, and then converted a second match point on her opponent’s serve to reach a first Premier Mandatory final.
Stephens will either face sixth seed and French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, or fellow American and qualifier Danielle Collins in the final on Saturday.