MIAMI, USA - Sloane Stephens consolidated her impending Top 10 debut on Monday by winning her first title of the season, defeating Jelena Ostapenko 7-6(5), 6-1 to win the Miami Open title on Saturday. It was the perfect farewell to Crandon Park - the Miami Open will be moving to the Hard Rock Stadium next year - and moment was not lost on the 24-year-old American, who grew up playing on the courts on Key Biscayne.
"Obviously this place is pretty special to me," Stephens told reporters after the match. "I grew up playing tennis here. When the USTA was here, we played Orange Bowl and all sorts of tournaments here.
"I'm definitely happy that I could be the last person to win here. I have had some amazing experiences here, and I'll definitely miss it, but I think -- yeah, I just feel fortunate that I was able to do that here in South Florida with all my friends and family watching."
En route to her first Premier Mandatory title, Stephens defeated four consecutive Slam champions to move to a remarkable 6-0 in WTA finals. After a gritty win over Monica Niculescu in the third round, Stephens knocked out No.3 Garbiñe Muguruza, No.10 Angelique Kerber, Victoria Azarenka, and No.5 Ostapenko to cap off her fortnight.
Stephens joined the WTA Insider Podcast after her win to reflect on her Miami fortnight, the reasons behind her slow start to the season, and marvel at her own statistical milestones.
Listen to the full episode below:
WTA Insider: What does this title mean for you?
Stephens: It's super awesome. Obviously I didn't start the year off great so to have a good result here is really important. It's super awesome because growing up in South Florida, a lot of friends and family are here so it's really awesome for me.
WTA Insider: Throughout the tournament, you mentioned the third round match against Monica Niculescu a lot. Your quotes on it, that battling out on Court 75 is what allows you have these big matches on Center Court, went viral. Can you elaborate on those comments?
Stephens: I think that a lot of the work is done when there's no crowd and there's no one there and you're playing a player who's extremely difficult to play. Someone that can chop you up at any point. It's not easy. You work so hard during those matches to be able to play on Center Court to be able to play the No.3 player or the No.10 player, to play those great matches. I think the easy part is when you're playing on Center Court! When you're playing someone like Monica, mind you, I love Monica. She's a great player, she's just a nightmare to play. An absolute nightmare.
Playing someone like that, that's when you really get pushed and you get pushed to your limits. Maybe not for everyone, but for me, those types of things are the learning lessons that I need to be able to improve and get better and play my best tennis on this Center Court here.
WTA Insider: You said that going into the start of the year you were doing the best you had because of the abbreviated off-season due to injury. So did you have a concerted training block in February?
Stephens: Yeah definitely. After I left from Australia I went home and I didn't really play any tennis. I just focused on my fitness and made sure I was healthy. I didn't get a good enough off-season. I knew that I wasn't in top form. I didn't have a lot of confidence because I knew I wasn't 100% ready, which is never fun. But like I said, you work with what you have and you don't complain. You just go with it. that was fine for me.
So I made sure when I got back from Australia I just focused on myself. I made sure I was eating well, I was doing fitness, I was in the gym, I was doing everything that I knew would help me. The results don't come right away. I lost in the third round of Indian Wells and I lost to the girl who made the final (Kasatkina). That's not a bad result. To come here and be able to string a bunch of good matches together gives you confidence because I worked really hard for that.
WTA Insider: Does it loosen the shoulders a bit?
Stephens: It's not easy to get into tip-top shape before the tournament because you have to work your way as you're playing. I think I did the best I could during that time after Australia and it shows now, so I'm happy about that.
WTA Insider: I'm going to read you a few statements and I want to get your thoughts them.
WTA Insider: Sloane Stephens is 6-0 in finals.
Stephens: That's pretty cool. I try not to think of it that way. That's a good stat.
WTA Insider: It must mean a lot given everything that was made about your record in semifinals before you made your first final.
Stephens: What a stressful moment. That was a situation. Yeah, I'm glad to be 6-0 in finals when it matters.
WTA Insider: You led the tournament in return games won at 65.5%. You were breaking serve 65% of the time.
Stephens: That's pretty good! Someone else said that as well and I was like Really? I didn't know that. Bring it on, I guess.
WTA Insider: Sloane Stephens beat four Slam champs en route to the Miami title.
Stephens: That is not bad either! These are all good stats, you haven't said anything bad yet (laughs)! Oh my god that's really good. Everyone's always complaining that I play the easiest players when I win a tournament and I don't play anyone in the Top 10 and blah, blah, blah. Four Slam champions. That's pretty incredible and I'm really pleased with that.
SWTA Insider: Sloane Stephens is the last champion at Crandon Park. You grew up and played tennis in this area.
Stephens: This is really, really special, really cool for me and all the South Florida kids who grew up here playing tennis down here, playing Orange Bowl. It's quite nice.
WTA Insider: What are your best tennis memories of playing tennis on Key Biscayne?
Stephens: I played Orange Bowl and I had two match points against Christina McHale in the semifinals and I lost. I cried for days. It was so painful. That's the craziest memory I have.
But just my mom bringing my mom down here. I used to work with Lori McNeil, she would help me work on my volleys and stuff, and then my mom would take me to Sir Pizza, and then we'd drive all the way back home. Hanging out with mom is probably my best memory here.
WTA Insider: Sloane Stephens has won two of the six biggest titles since she came back.
Stephens: That's pretty good! Secure the bag, y'all.
WTA Insider: Did Sloane Stephens secure the bag in Miami?
Stephens: Bag secured.
WTA Insider: Do you want to explain the reference?
Stephens: Nah, you have to figure it out. Google. Urban dictionary.
WTA Insider: Last one: Sloane Stephens will make her Top 10 debut on Monday.
Stephens: Thank the Lord. Thank the Lord. It has been a long time coming, so finally I'm going to say a good prayer tonight because I worked hard for it.
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