It would be the last of 38 Miami Open women’s finals to be played at Crandon Park Tennis Center on Saturday, so it seemed only fitting that a South Florida native drive home to Ft. Lauderdale with the winner’s trophy.
Sloane Stephens, who often played at Key Biscayne as a child, improved her unblemished record in career finals to 6-0 by collecting her first career Miami Open title with a 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 win over sixth-seeded Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.
“Obviously this place is pretty special to me,” Stephens said. “I grew up playing tennis here. I’m definitely happy that I could be the last person to win here. I’ve had some amazing experiences here and I’ll definitely miss it.
“I just feel fortunate I was able to do this here in South Florida with all my friends and family watching.”
Fans in attendance for the women’s final showed their displeasure about the tournament relocating to the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium grounds next year by booing new tournament director James Blake’s mention of the move during the award ceremony.
Stephens, however, is willing to see the change as a positive for the future of the event.
“I’m excited for the move and I think it will be a great thing for the tournament,” she said. “A new facility — I’m sure it will be beautiful. There’s so many amazing things that come with moving a tournament.”
Regardless of whether Stephens won or lost on Saturday she was slated to secure a top 10 ranking — at No. 9 — for the first time in her career in Monday’s new rankings.
“I’m super excited and it’s something I wanted for a really long time,” said Stephens, of finally reaching top 10 status. “It took a really long time to get there, to get to 10 and I had been No. 11.
“Obviously winning the tournament is the cherry on top.”
The 13th-seeded Stephens and sixth-seeded Ostapenko came into the final — the first match they’ve played against each other — with similar stories. It was last year that both became Grand Slam champions for the first time in their careers.
Ostapenko would win her first career title in grand style by picking up the French Open trophy, and won her second at Seoul at the end of last season.
Stephens surprised all when as the 83rd-ranked player she landed the U.S. Open title after being benched for 11 months from the 2016 Olympics to 2017 Wimbledon because of a foot injury. Her ranking sunk as low as No. 957 last summer as she mounted a comeback to become only the fifth unseeded women to win at a Grand Slam in the Open Era.
Although Stephens would go onto lose the next eight matches she’d play after the U.S. Open — the last two of those defeats came this year — she’s rebounded to pick up her second most important trophy in Miami.
“I think coming back to play tennis, I feel so good I’m able to compete every week,” she said. “Even when I was down after the U.S. Open and I didn’t have my best results, and people were down on me, I said to myself, ‘There’s so many great opportunities out there and every week you’re not going to be able to take the title.’”
While Stephens’ victory provided a special conclusion for the women’s competition on Key Biscayne, the match didn’t deliver a final-quality performance.
Ostapenko showcased 25 winners to six for Stephens in the match, but the Latvian also suffered with 48 unforced errors to 21 for the champion.
In a first set that featured seven breaks of serve, Stephens served for a one-set lead in the 10th and 12th game, but couldn’t convert the opportunity.
Once Stephens capitalized on a fourth set point in the tiebreaker — she led 6-2 in the tiebreaker — she calmed her nerves and took control of the match.
“I think I really need to win that first set and get over it and then I was able to start swinging and play the game I wanted to,” Stephens said.
▪ Bob and Mike Bryan, who will turn 40 at the end of April, won their fifth Miami Open title — and 115th overall career doubles trophy — when they defeated the Russian duo of Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev, first-time doubles finalists, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 10-4.
Bob Bryan became the second local player to win at the Miami Open on Saturday. He lives in South Florida with his wife, Michelle, and their three children.