MIAMI, FL, USA - In the battle between reigning Grand Slam champions, it was South Florida local Sloane Stephens who edged past big-hitting Jelena Ostapenko to claim the Miami Open title in straight sets - the second-biggest title of her career.
Roland Garros champion Ostapenko came into the match without having dropped a set or lost a tiebreak during the entire Miami fortnight - but both streaks came to an end at the hands of US Open winner Stephens, 7-6(5), 6-1.
“This place is pretty special to me,” Stephens told press afterwards. “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 [in Key Biscayne]. I have had some amazing experiences here, and I'll definitely miss it. But I just feel fortunate that I was able to do that here in South Florida with all my friends and family watching.”
The victory will be even sweeter for Stephens come Monday - she’ll make her long-awaited Top 10 debut after this week, landing at World No.9. She also extends her impressive undefeated record in finals to 6-0.
In many ways, the career trajectories of Stephens and Ostapenko are a mirror of each other - both players struggled to back up their surprise Grand Slam results last year, combining for just seven match wins in 2018. But they both found their groove under the South Florida sun, and contested their first WTA Premier Mandatory finals today.
No.13 seed Stephens weathered an error-strewn start featuring four straight breaks of serve to get ahead at 4-3 in the first set. Ostapenko employed her signature lights-out, aggressive tennis, but offered up too many free points to the American allowing her to keep things close as Stephens stayed rock-solid.
With Stephens closing in on the set, a bit of nerves seemed to creep in as a double fault and a wild forehand handed Ostapenko a lifeline to level at 5-5. Stephens was undaunted, retrieving every ball and staying aggressive as two more breaks sent them to a tiebreak, where she surged to a 6-2 lead. Ostapenko saved four set points, but couldn’t curb Stephens’ momentum as she lost the first tiebreak - and the first set - of her tournament.
Ostapenko pounced on a loose service game from Stephens to grab the first break in the second set, but the American slammed the door shut to break straight back, finding an answer to everything the big-hitting Latvian sent her way. She reeled off the next five games in a row to zoom ahead to a straight sets victory after an hour and 31 minutes.
Ostapenko’s all-or-nothing brand of tennis ultimately backfired, and she struck 48 unforced errors across two sets - more than double Stephens’ 21. The American didn’t need to do much as Ostapenko’s game unraveled, hitting just six winners - one of them an ace - during the match and weathering Ostapenko’s barrage of 25. In addition, Stephens won 57% of her first serve points - Ostapenko just 39%.
“I knew that I was just going to have to run a lot of balls down,” Stephens said. “The way that she plays is she has a very aggressive style, and sometimes you can't outhit her or outrun her. You just kind of have to accept that she's going to hit some really great shots.
“I think that's what I did best today. When she was hitting great shots, I just was, like, ‘Too good,’ and moved on. I think that's what helped me kind of get through that breaker. I just accepted that some good shots were going to be hit and just didn't harp on it too much.”