Tennis

In last women’s final at Key Biscayne, South Florida native hopes to make it special

Sloane Stephens returns the ball to Victoria Azarenka during her Thursday victory at the Miami Open. She will take on Jelena Ostapenko at 1 p.m. Saturday in the women’s final.
Sloane Stephens returns the ball to Victoria Azarenka during her Thursday victory at the Miami Open. She will take on Jelena Ostapenko at 1 p.m. Saturday in the women’s final. dvarela@miamiherald.com

Sloane Stephens, who has already won the U.S. Open, will be going back to her roots on Saturday when she attempts to add the Miami Open title to her résumé.

For the Fort Lauderdale native, this South Florida tournament means something special.

She will be trying to win her first Miami Open championship when she takes on Jelena Ostapenko in the women’s final at 1 p.m. Saturday on Stadium Court at the Crandon Park Tennis Center on Key Biscayne. Making it more historic, the match will be the last women’s final on Key Biscayne as the tournament is scheduled to move to Hard Rock Stadium in 2019.

Of the tournament’s move, Stephens said, “It will be weird.”

Of Saturday’s championship match, she doesn’t think that’s weird at all — just great.

Stephens offered, “I think it will be cool, obviously, to play in front of family and friends here again for the last time. I will be able to close it out in style for them. Hopefully, that will work.

“I’m happy to be here in the final. I think anyone would be.”

One of the highlights of Stephens’ career — no, it does not match her U.S. Open championship or even making it to the final in Miami this year — came in the Miami Open. It was a hugely important and breakthrough moment for her.

Years ago, Stephens was going through qualifying in order to achieve the privilege of making the main field in the Miami Open. She was on the outer courts with 80 to 90 fans in the stands.

She won and was interviewed right after the match in front of the bleachers, close enough for the fans to listen in.

During the interview, Stephens mentioned that it also happened to be her birthday. The fans immediately burst into “Happy Birthday to you” and Stephens danced to the song to the fans’ delight.

No, qualifying for a tournament might not be the equivalent of a U.S. Open title or Miami Open final, but nevertheless still a pretty good memory to savor.

And her opponent, Ostapenko, who is only 20 years old, is no longer considered an upstart after winning the 2017 French Open. She became the first player from Latvia to win a Grand Slam event.

Going into the match against Stephens, Ostapenko said, “I think I’m calmer and also mentally stronger than I have been.”

This will be Ostapenko’s first final of the 2018 season.

“I’m looking forward to another great match,” she said.

Her strategy is simple.

“I think I have to be very aggressive and go after shots.”

MIAMI OPEN WOMEN’S FINAL

Stephens.............................................................Ostapenko

Age: 25.................................................................20

Height: 5-7..........................................................5-10

Turned pro: 2010..............................................2012

Career prize money: $8,431,310....................$5,211,839

Career record: 234-161 (59.24 percent).......183-95 (65.83 percent)

Titles: 5 WTA......................................................2 WTA

Highest ranking: No. 11....................................No. 5

Current ranking: No. 12...................................No. 5

Best major: Won 2017 U.S.Open...................Won 2017 French Open.

  Comments