Sloane Stephens fights back to beat Azarenka and reach Miami final - UBITENNIS
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Sloane Stephens fights back to beat Azarenka and reach Miami final

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Sloane Stephens beat Victoria Azarenka 3-6 6-2 6-1 in a bizarre match to reach the final of the Miami Open for the first time.

 

The result also means the American has now won 23 of the 28 matches she has played in North America since returning from injury last June.

Victory for Stephens looked an unlikely outcome after she went 3-0 down due to a sluggish start, lost the opening set 6-3 and then slipped 2-0 behind at the beginning of the second set.

However, the 2017 US Open champion managed to motivate herself to raise her game and she went on an extraordinary run as she won 10 of the last 11 games to earn a place in the final.

After Azarenka dictated the opening exchanges and moved into a 3-0 lead, Stephens got herself warmed up and into the match by levelling the score.

The Belarussian responded by increasing her aggression and hitting deeper. And her approach worked as she again strung three consecutive games together to take the first set 6-3.

A Remarkable Turnaround for Stephens

Azarenka extended her run of successive games to five by racing into a 2-0 lead in the second set. But it was a false dawn for the two-time Australian Open champion as Stephens suddenly roared into life.

When Azarenka made a couple of double faults to slip down 0-30, Stephens pounced on the opportunity and broke to love. She then withstood considerable pressure from the Belarussian to hold and level the score.

Game five was pivotal. Azarenka made a couple of errors to gift Stephens three break points, and then saved all three with a series of trademark groundstrokes.

But the American seemed determined to break and she saved two game points before earning her fourth break point. She took it by hitting a fierce forehand that Azarenka was only able to deflect wide of court.

The Belarussian was clearly shaken by the turn-around and she was outplayed by Stephens for the rest of the set as the American stormed through the remaining three games to win it 6-2.

Stephens immediately went up a break in the decider against an increasingly frustrated Azarenka by producing a stunning forehand winner to clinch a closely-fought opening game.

By this point, the Belarussian seemed preoccupied with certain individuals making too much noise in the crowd and the unforced errors were beginning to mount up.

After a comfortable hold, the American broke down Azarenka’s resistance again to earn a double break and suddenly the final was within reach.

Unfortunately, the Belarussian seemed to be suffering with some kind of fitness issue during the latter part of the final set and, although she managed to earn one hold, it became something of a procession as Stephens wrapped up the set 6-1.

“We played some really good points”

“I think she came out playing really well, and I knew I was going to have to fight regardless of what happened last week,” said Stephens in her press conference.

She continued, “I wasn’t playing terribly. I had a lot of errors, but I didn’t feel like I was just not in the match. So I knew if I stayed with it I would be able to get my opportunities, and I did.”

Stephens was asked about her exuberant reaction to winning the match. She said, “That’s obviously a good win for me. It’s someone I have lost to three times prior to last week. So I had to play some of my best tennis today.”

“I thought it was a really great match. Some of you might not agree, but I thought that we played some really good points. Yeah, I’m excited. I’m happy to be in the final. I think anyone would be. Hopefully I take that good tennis into Saturday’s final.”

Stephens was also asked about the incredible run of qualifier Danielle Collins, who she might face in an all-American final. She said, “I think it’s awesome. The last time I played her was in a 14s designated in Florida. I think it’s really awesome to see girls who go to college and then are able to play on tour.”

“I think that’s really cool. Education is really important. I think she said at Indian Wells she was the first person in her family to graduate. I respect that and I think it’s really awesome. For her, growing up, playing junior tennis with her, that’s really incredible and I think she’s a great story. I’m super happy for her.”

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Krystina Pliskova upsets Petra Martic to reach the third round at the Prague Open

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Krystina Pliskova upset Petra Martic 6-1 7-5 after 1 hour and 22 minutes to reach the third round at the Prague Open. Pliskova hit 28 winners to 13 unforced errors. The twin sister of Karolina Pliskova scored her seventh career top 20 win and the second this season after beating Aryna Sabalenka in Shenzhen last January. 

 

Krystina reached the Prague tournament final in 2017. The Czech player reached her eighth WTA clay quarter final or better since 2017. 

Pliskova won the first game with four unreturned serves and reeled off nine of the first ten to open up a 3-0 lead. The Czech player saved two break points with heavy groundstrokes in the third game before breaking serve in the sixth game to close out the first set with three consecutive aces. 

Martic saved a break point in the third game of the second set. Pliskova fended off a break point in the fourth game with a service winner. Martic saved the first three break points, but Pliskova converted her fourth opportunity to take a 6-5 lead in a marathon five-deuce game before sealing the win on her second match point. 

“I feel I am playing on clay each year. Everybody was saying I cannot move and stuff, but I don’t think it’s like this. I have more time, so it’s good for me that clay is not that fast, I can focus on my game”, said Pliskova. 

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Serena Williams sets up clash against her sister Venus

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Former world number 1 and 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams rallied from one set down to beat her compatriot Bernarda Pera 4-6 6-4 6-1 to reach the second round at the inaugual edition of the Top Seed Open in Lexington (Kentucky). 

 

Williams was playing her first match since the Fed Cyp tie where she helped lead the United States to a Fed Cup win over Latvia. 

Croatian-born player Pera broke into the top 100 for the first time in 2018, when she reached the third round at the Australian Open and scored her first win over a top 10 when she beat Joanna Konta. She reached three semifinals in Prague, Lausanne and Juurmala, where she beat former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round.

In the opening set Pera earned a break in the fifth game and saved two break points on her serve. Pera converted her first set ooprtunity with a forehand winner. 

Williams rallied from 0-40 down at the start of the second set and opened up a 3-1 lead with a break before Pera broke back to draw level to 3-3. When she was down 0-40 at 4-4 Williams saved four break points that would have helped Pera serve for the match. 

Williams earned two set points on Pera’s serve and converted her second chance with a forehand. Williams broke serve at the start of the third set to take a 3-1 lead and fended off two break points in the next game. Williams rallied from 0-40 down by winning the final nine points to claim the win. 

“It was a really calm atmosphere, really chill. I can’t say I disliked it. It was different. I have been through so many things in my career. I think I won today because I was calm for once, so that was really helpful”, said Serena Williams after the match. 

Serena set up a clash against her sister Venus, who beat Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-2. Serena holds a 18-12 head-to-head lead over Venus. 

Both players held serve in the first four games. She hit an ace to hold serve for 3-2 before earning three break points. The US player converted her first chance to take a 4-2 lead after a double fault from Azarenka. Williams served for the set at 5-3. Azarenka earned a chance to get back on serve as Williams netted a forehand error at 30-30. Williams saved it and earned a set point. 

Azarenka made a double fault in the first game of the second set to face a break point. Williams got a double break to open up a 3-0 lead. Azarenka got her first game at 4-1. Williams pulled away to 5-1 with her solid serve. Azarenka held serve for 2-5. In the next game Williams earned her first match point and sealed the win with a lob winner. 

 

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Simona Halep makes a winning start to her Prague Open campaign

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Number 1 seed and last year’s Wimbledon champion Simona Halep edged past Polona Hercog 6-1 1-6 7-6 (7-3) in two and a half hours in the opening round of the Prague Open on her seventh match point after 2 hours and 31 minutes. Halep played her first match since claiming her 20th title in Dubai. 

 

Halep wasted six match points before claiming the win in the tie-break of the third set to secure his spot in the Round of 16. Halep won four points more than Hercog and saved five of the 11 break points he faced. 

Both players traded breaks in the second and third games of the opening set. Halep earned two consecutive breaks in the fourth and sixth games to win the first set 6-1, as Hercog made 12 unforced errors to only two winners. 

Hercog came back from a break down early in the second set to get three consecutive breaks and won the second set 6-1. 

Both players traded breaks in the fourth and fifth games of the decider. Halep earned another break to open up a 5-3 lead. Hercog broke back in the ninth game and saved six match points in the 10th and 12th games to set up a decisive tie-break. Halep claimed the tie-break 7-3. 

Before the five-month break Halep lost to Garbine Muguruza in the semifinal of the Australian Open and won the Dubai final. 

Last week’s Palermo semifinalist Camila Giorgi came back from one set down to beat Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk 4-6 6-2 7-6 (7-4) after 2 hours and 14 minutes. Giorgi converted six of her eight break points. 

Kostyuk earned the first break in the fourth game. Giorgi broke straight back in the fifth game. Both players traded breaks in the sixth and seventh games. Giorgi saved a break point in the eighth game to draw level to 4-4. Kostyuk broke for the third time in the 10th game to win the first set 6-4 after 44 minutes. 

Giorgi broke twice in a row to race out to a 4-0 lead, Kostyuk pulled one break back in the sixth game for 2-4, but Giorgi broke again in the seventh game to win the second set 6-2 in 31 minutes. 

Kostyuk broke serve in the third game of the decider to open up a 3-0 lead. Giorgi broke back to draw level to 3-3. In the eighth game the Italian star fended off another break. The set came down to the tie-break. Giorgi opened up a 4-2 lead. Both players traded mini-breaks. Giorgi earned two match points and converted her first chance to win the tie-break 7-4. 

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