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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Karolina Pliskova gets through to the third round

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Karolina Pliskova beat Laura Siegemund 6-3 6-3 after 86 minutes. Siegemund went up an early break to take a 3-1 lead, but Halep came back by winning five consecutive games to win the first set 6-3.

 

Pliskova earned an early break at the start of the second set and won a long fifth game to come two games away from the win. Siegemund fended off a break point at 1-4 and held a break point in the sixth game. Pliskova fended it off and held on her serve to secure her spot in the third round on her third match point.

“I am not sure if it was really nice tennis today. I think she has a very ugly game for me, so I am never going to feel amazing playing her. I am just happy to be through because this was an ugly match for me. Last time we played was on clay, so I am just happy I am through and hopefully I can feel better in my next round”,said Pliskova.

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Simona Halep Rallies To 90th Grand Slam Win At Australian Open

The world No.4 has achieved a new milestone at Melbourne Park on Thursday.

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Simona Halep’s quest for a first Australian Open title is gaining momentum after she strolled into the third round with a solid 77-minute victory at Melbourne Park.

 

The 2018 runner-up overcame some late resistance en route to her 6-2, 6-4, win over British qualifier Harriet Dart. A world No.172 player who was making her main draw debut at the tournament. Separated by 162 places in the rankings, the disparity between the two players was noticeable. Dart produced glimmers of her talent, but was undone by an array of unforced errors. Which amounted to 34 in total. Enabling Halep to dictate proceedings throughout the majority of the match.

“I like to play under pressure. It is more fun and exciting. But I would prefer to finish the matches when I have the chance to.” Halep said during her on-court interview.

Under the guidance of Darren Cahill once again, the latest performance saw the former world No.1 win 67% of her first service points and break Dart five times in total. However, it was a far from a perfect match with the Romanian’s unforced error count overshadowing her winners at 23 to 14.

“It’s very nice to have him back. It gives me confidence and I’m really happy about my team.” She commented on her reunion with Cahill.

Both sets of Halep’s latest encounter featured a similar pattern of her dismantling the fragile serve on her opponent. During the opener, the two-time grand slam champion broke three consecutive times en route to clinching a 6-2 lead.

It was a much more testing time in the second frame with the underdog staging a last-minute fight back. Leading by a set and 5-2, Halep looked to be on course for a one-sided victory. However, Dart wasn’t finished yet. The underdog produced her best tennis to retrieve one of the breaks to the annoyance of a growlingly frustrated Halep. Who made glares towards her camp in the crowd. Despite the scare, it was not enough to derail the world No.4. On her fourth match point Halep prevailed with the help of a forehand shot from her opponent landing beyond the baseline.

“It was a little bit dangerous before I lost my focus a little bit at the end. She started to play very well, so it was more difficult for me to hold. But I’m happy I went through it.” Halep reflected after.

Thursday’s victory hands the Romanian her 90th main draw win at a grand slam level and 21st at the Australian Open. Improving her overall record of wins in the second round of grand slam tournaments to 20-7. Halep is the only player to have had a top four seeding at the Australian Open every year since 2016.

Awaiting the 28-year-old in the next round will be either 2019 semi-finalist Danielle Collins or Yania Putintseva. She hasn’t played Collins on the tour since 2014 and is yet to face Putintseva.

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Garbine Muguruza Maintains Strong Start To Season At The Australian Open

Garbine Muguruza advanced to the third round of the Australian Open with a hard-fought three-set win over Alja Tomljanovic.

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Garbine Muguruza (@TheFirstServeAU)

Garbine Muguruza beat Alja Tomljanovic 6-3 3-6 6-3 in a fascinating duel to earn a place in the third round of the 2020 Australian Open.

 

It is a result that enables the Spaniard, 26, to maintain her encouraging start to the new season. She won three matches in Shenzhen and two in Hobart. Then she beat Shelby Rogers in three sets in the first round at Melbourne Park.

All these wins are significant for Muguruza because of her struggles in 2019. Between the end of the French Open in June and the end of her season in September, the two-time Grand Slam champion only won one match.

During that three-month dry spell, the Spaniard parted with long-time coach Sam Sumyk and did some work with Spanish Fed Cup captain Anabel Medina Garrigues.

However, that arrangement did not last long. Muguruza announced in November that Conchita Martinez would become her coach again in 2020. Martinez famously guided the younger Spaniard to Wimbledon glory in 2017.

So far, the Muguruza-Martinez partnership is paying off. The Spaniard has re-discovered her assurance on court and she looks much calmer than she did for most of 2019.

Muguruza deals well with Tomljanovic

In the match against Tomljanovic, the former World No.1 had the right approach. She played a solid first set while the Australian was a little wayward and won it 6-3.

Then Muguruza’s form dipped and she lost the second set. But, crucially, she did not seem to be too bothered by this setback.

Instead, the Spaniard simply focused on the decider and produced her best tennis of the match to overcome an undeniably talented opponent who also played a good set.

“It was a tough battle,” Muguruza said in her on-court interview. “I think Alja played very well so I had to level up my game and stay in the fight until the last moment.”

The Spaniard continued, “I’m very excited to work with Conchita again. I’ve known her since I was 14 so we understand each other very well.”

Muguruza will take on either Elina Svitolina or Lauren Davis in the last 32.

Bencic passes Ostapenko test

Players often say that they struggle to find any kind of rhythm against Jelena Ostapenko because she tries to hit virtually every ball for a winner.

Given this, it will come as no great surprise to anyone that the Latvian employed that exact approach against Belinda Bencic in their second-round match.

While Ostapenko was going for everything, the Swiss player at the other end did everything she could to stay in contention at all times. If the Latvian pulled ahead, Bencic tried to make her play extra shots. If the World No.6 faced break points, she tried to hit aces so that her opponent had no chance of hitting a winner.

On this occasion, Bencic did not play particularly well, and she did not execute a particularly high percentage of the shots she attempted. However, she did enough to win a rollercoaster first set that included seven breaks 7-5. Then she recovered well from 2-5 in the second set to win it by the same score as the first.

It is a very useful skill to be able to win without playing at your best. Bencic has now done that in both of her matches so far. She will now play either Annet Kontaveit or Sara Sorribes Tormo in the third round.

Elsewhere in Melbourne, Donna Vekic continued her impressive progress at this year’s Australian Open. She hit 38 winners during a comfortable 6-4 6-2 win over Alize Cornet.

 

 

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