Briana Foust

Crandon Park seemed destined to feature a historical match up for the final WTA event at the storied Key Biscayne venue before the Miami Open moves to its new home at the Hard Rock Stadium. The 2018 final was the first ever meeting between Ajlona (Jelena) Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens. Aljona Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens both shocked the world in 2017 by possessing their best displays of tennis over seven matches to etch their names into Parisian and American history. Their meeting was the first since 2014 at a premier mandatory between two reigning major champions and would feature two gamestyles that could be described as polar opposites of the other. Ostapenko won Roland Garros with controlled high octane tennis. She does not posses a reliable serve but her best tennis is a daring display of groundstrokes that create angled winners that many would deem impossible. Stephens came back from an eleven month injury layoff with a newfound appreciation for tennis coupled with gritty defense, suffocating court coverage, and opportunistic transistions from defense to offense that left her as the last woman standing in New York.

After reaching those career highs their struggles since winning the biggest titles of their career have been more of the focus of conversation surrounding these two players. Before the Miami Open, Ostapenko and Stephens had combined to win seven matches through the first three months of this year. By reaching the final, both would be achieving their deepest result at a premier mandatory event.

Under the glare of this occasion, the final started as a nervy affair. Entering the final, Ostapenko had won 75% of her service games. Massively overachieving over her season average of 58%. While Stephens was leading the tournament by breaking her opponent’s serve in 66% of her return games. Four straight breaks of serve came from Ostapenko’s shotmaking, whether the result was a winner or an error, while Stephens’ was employing a strategy of getting just one more ball back until she managed to force an error. The difficulty for either player to be dominant and the tension of the occasion would ultimately urge David Taylor, Ostapenko’s coach, to commit to her shot selection. Advice that both players could use as Stephens would fail to serve out the first twice before winning it in a tiebreak.

Stephens shoulders would loosen up after winning the first set and she displayed more of her offense skills to make the second set less competitive 6-1 scoreline. When Stephens fully commits to her counterpunching, it is hard to for her opponent to find solutions against someone who is not daunted by doing the hard work deep behind the baseline. Once again it proved successful as Stephens is the only player since 2016 to win a major title, premier mandatory, and a regular wta premier title in a time span that has seen her continue to go undefeated in finals (6-0).

For her efforts, Stephens will begin next week as a career high ranking of number 9. Fitting as she was the ninth American to reach the Miami Open final after legends of American tennis such as: Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Chanda Rubin, Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, Venus Williams, and Serena Williams.


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