Miami: The Miami Open women’s final will pit two reigning grand slam champions after Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko won their respective semi-finals in Florida on Thursday.
US Open champion Stephens again ended former world number one Victoria Azarenka’s hopes of a fairytale comeback by beating her 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 in an afternoon encounter.
French Open champion Ostapenko beat unseeded American Danielle Collins in the nightcap, staving off a set point en route to a 7-6(1), 6-3 triumph.
American 13th seed Stephens has five career titles, while sixth seed Ostapenko has two heading into Saturday’s final.
“I’m feeling amazing now,” said Latvian Ostapenko, who wore down Collins with a series of powerful groundstrokes.
She hit 33 winners and ended the match in style with a running forehand winner down the line.
The unheralded Collins, 24, who stunned Venus Williams in the quarter-finals, once again showed her talent and poise for the big occasion as she gave the Latvian a serious test.
A break for 6-5 in the first set gave her the opportunity to serve it out but it wasn’t taken allowing Ostapenko to force a tie-break which she dominated 7-1.
“I was fine until the end,” Ostapenko said. “I was just trying to play my game and I’m really happy with the way I finished.”
Ostapenko was delighted to reach her first WTA premier mandatory final — and just like Stephens, she is yet to win one having lost in the semi’s in Beijing last year.
She said she had been working this year on her mental approach.
"I am really happy to be in the final," said the Latvian.
"I know Danielle has been playing well but I just had to stick to my game. I am staying very calm, I have been working on my mentality and it is helping me a lot.
"Sloane is great player but I will just try and enjoy it."
Stephens endured a terrible slump since triumphing at Flushing Meadows last September, losing her last six games of 2017 and started the New Year with deflating early exits in Sydney and the Australian Open.
"At the end of last season, I had to play. Like, my heart was there but my body physically was not," said the American who missed 11 months from the Rio Olympics to Wimbledon last summer because of a foot injury.
"And I think that was the most important thing, getting myself back in the best shape that I could be in, making sure that I was pain-free, that I wasn't going to get injured again, and making sure I was taking care of myself.
"That was the biggest part about ending last season. And then going into this season, I knew that I didn't have the greatest offseason, so for me, the two matches that I lost the first part of the year in Australia, not a big deal. If you're not 100 percent, you can't expect much.
"I took the time to get myself together and I guess there has been some good results."
Three-times champion Azarenka, playing as a wildcard in her second event after an eight-month absence because of a custody dispute involving her son, showed glimpses of the form that took her to the top of the rankings but ultimately ran out of gas against her 13th-seeded opponent.
Stephens, who also beat Azarenka in the second round at Indian Wells this month, took control of the match early in the second set and never looked back as she raced through the decider with ease.
“I just knew I had to keep fighting. In the first set I was down but I battled back so I knew if I did that in the second, I’d be right in there,” the 25-year-old American said in an on-court interview.
“I ended up winning a lot of games in a row and I just tried to keep the momentum going.”
Azarenka’s initial comeback after the birth of her child in December, 2016 was short-lived as she played two tournaments before a custody battle with her son’s father prevented her from travelling with her child.
The Belarusian may have played little competitive tennis in recent years but she enjoyed a respectable run in Miami, including victory over Czech world number six Karolina Pliskova in the quarter-finals.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Mar 30, 2018 12:23:51 IST