SINGAPORE - Sloane Stephens is into the final at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global for the first time in her career, advancing after a stunning turnaround victory over Karolina Pliskova.
After losing eight games in a row at the start and standing inches from defeat, Singapore debutante Stephens completed the epic comeback to edge through 0-6, 6-4, 6-1.
“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.
“I had a bit of an adrenaline dump after I finally won one game - I was really fired up, so I was like ‘Okay, 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.”
The victory sends Stephens into the championship match, where Elina Svitolina awaits as both players seek to lift the WTA Finals Singapore 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 - but she still didn’t ease up.
Pliskova’s serve bailed her out of trouble in the next game as the American looked to capitalize on her own break chances, and instead went down 4-0 as Pliskova extended her lead. She marched ahead to close out the set with her sixth 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 to start and opening up a 2-0 lead.
With Pliskova barreling towards the finish line, Stephens changed up her strategy - putting more on the first serve and dialling up the aggression - and was immediately rewarded with a break straight back, her first game of the match to make it 1-2.
Getting that game on the scoreboard galvanized Stephens - and delighted the Singaporean crowd - she reeled off another two games in a row to take the lead for the first time at 3-2. The pair continued to wrestle with the momentum, but it was Stephens who emerged with the set - sending the match into a decider.
Fully dialled in, Stephens flew through the last set. After trading breaks at the beginning, Stephens rattled off five games in a row - sealing the match after just under two hours to book a spot in the Singapore final against Svitolina.
“I think that will be a great match tomorrow, but it doesn't matter what's happened in the past,” Stephens said. She owns a 2-1 win-loss record over the Ukrainian, with both wins coming on hardcourts.
“Obviously this is a completely different surface. We are playing indoor hard. It's completely different. And there is a lot on the line. I think we are just going to both go out and play as hard as we can, and I think it will be a great match.”
She added, “I have done qualifying for my first final here, beating some amazing players, playing four really great matches. You know, I'm happy with that. I just got one more to go. I'm just going to give it my all and see what happens.”
Stephens 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 four double faults and served at 45% - Stephens was serving at 79%. As a result, The American was able to break seven times from 12 chances, and Pliskova only six from nine.