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Homecoming Queen: Sloane Stephens Wins Miami Open Tennis 2018

Sloane Stephens of the US holds the Butch Buchholz Trophy after defeating Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia during the women’s final round round match at the Miami Open tennis tournament on Key Biscayne, Miami, Florida, USA, 31 March 2018. EPA-EFE/ERIK S. LESSER



Sometimes you have to go home to truly find yourself.


Returning Crandon Park where she trained as a junior, Floridian Sloane Stephens turned a Key Biscayne final farewell into a rousing homecoming.


Scampering around the court as if moving to music she heard in her head, Stephens slashed through Jelena Ostapenko, 7-6 (5), 6-1, capturing the final Miami Open women’s title staged on Key Biscayne.


The 13th-seeded Stephens showed smooth movement, shrewd ball-control and brilliant defense winning her first title since the US Open last September and raising her career finals record to a shining 6-0.


Suffering an eight-match losing streak after her Flushing Meadows triumph, Stephens regained her confidence and her game on Key Biscayne capping the tournament with the title and her first appearance in the Top 10.


Stephens found the right blend of defense and offense knocking off four Grand Slam champions—Ostapenko, Victoria Azarenka, Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza—earning her fourth career title on American soil.


“It’s incredible,” Stephens told ESPN’s Brad Gilbert afterward. “Obviously, a little bit of a rough start. I knew if I just got back to drawing board, I’d be okay…


“Obviously, I wasn’t expecting a title here or anywhere. Good things happen when you put in the work.”


The tournament will move about 20 miles north to the Hard Rock Stadium home of the Miami Dolphins next year. Stephens’ skill improvising on the move was a major asset today.


In a clash of Grand Slam champions, Stephens played patient, clean combinations and took advantage of her opportunities.


The US Open champion committed 19 unforced errors compared to 46 for Ostapenko. Stephens exploited the 20-year-old Latvian’s kick serve, converting seven of her eight break-point chances.


The first meeting between the pair began with a feeling-out stage at the start. Ostapenko’s forehand failed her in the first game as a stray forehand wide gifted the break to Stephens.


The backhand down the line is Ostapenko’s signature shot and she punished a pair of backhand bolts down the line breaking back at 15.


Seeing the Latvian wasn’t striking her forehand with the same accuracy, Stephens jammed drives down the middle drawing a couple of forehand errors for the third straight break.


Four straight breaks started the match before Ostapenko knocked off a textbook forehand volley then fired her forehand down the line finishing the first hold for 3-2. Stephens slid a one-handed slice backhand winner stamping a love hold in response.


Stephens’ superior movement and defense paid dividends in the seventh game. Scrambling across the court, Stephens stayed balanced running down a series of defensive forehands coaxing the Latvian to overhit a forehand as the US Open champion earned her third break for 4-3.


“She’s waiting for you to miss—you have to make the point and you have to live with some misses, accelerate through the line,” Ostapenko’s coach, David Taylor, exhorted her on the ensuing changeover.


Playing patient, self-contained points, Stephens surged back from love-30 backing up the break in the eighth game.


Serving for the set, Stephens blinked. She spun her first double point off the tape to face break point then sailed a forehand well beyond the baseline sending the score dead even after 10 games.


Defending her running forehand vigorously, Stephens drew another error earning her fourth break for 6-5.


Again Stephens served for the set and again she tightened up. Stephens stiff-armed a 77 mph second serve donating the break with the double fault escalating the drama into a tie break.


Ostapenko carried a 5-0 tournament tiebreak record into the extra session, but was bogged down by Stephens’ unerring defense.


The second serve is the weakest link in the Latvian’s game. Stephens stepped around a backhand and clocked a diagonal forehand return winner for four set points.


The drama spiked again as Ostapenko saved three set points. On her fourth, Stephens sent a high, heavy backhand return crosscourt drawing the error to end a 56-minute set.


Seeing her streak of 10 straight sets snapped, Ostapenko got right back to work.


Hammering a backhand dart off the baseline, the 20-year-old converted her fourth break point to start the second set. Stephens broke right back putting together a six-point surge to go up 2-1.


Shrewdly challenging the Latvian’s forehand with varied spin, Stephens mixed some shoulder-high heavy topspin with some crawling slice coaxing successive forehand errors to break for 3-1. By then, Ostapenko had scattered 34 unforced errors.


Seeing her would-be winners comeback again and again, Ostapenko tried to find the lines but her errors piled up as the speedy Stephens sent everything back breaking for 5-1.


Jolting a running forehand crosscourt brought Stephens to championship point at the 91-minute mark.


Ostapenko missed a final forehand and raised an eyebrow in a “one of those days” expression as a smiling Stephens pumped her first toward her box.


This first meeting between Grand Slam champions could be a prelude of more major meetings to come.


“It’s been a dream two weeks,” Stephens told the crowd. “I always play well in the USA. I don’t know why, but I think it’s because of you guys. I just want you to understand how well you help me.”

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