WASHINGTON, April 1, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Sloane Stephens gave a memorable farewell performance in Crandon Park on Key Biscayne Saturday afternoon before her family and friends. The No. 13 seed won the Miami Open presented by Itaú women’s singles title by defeating No. 6 seed Jelena Ostapenko, 7-6 (5), 6-1, for her first WTA crown of 2018. The 24-year-old American grew up playing on the Crandon Park public tennis courts in Key Biscayne, across the Rickenbacker Causeway from downtown Miami. So, winning the last Miami Open women’s singles final at Crandon Park – it will move next year to Hard Rock Stadium further north – held special meaning to the reigning U.S. Open champion.
“Obviously, this place is pretty special to me,” said Stephens, in conversation with reporters following her victory. “I grew up playing tennis here. When the USTA was here, we played Orange Bowl and all sorts of tournaments here.
“I’m definitely happy that I could be the last person to win here. I have had some amazing experiences here, and I’ll definitely miss it, but I think – yeah, I just feel fortunate that I was able to do that here in South Florida with all my friends and family watching.”
Stephens, who was born in Plantation, Florida, and now resides in Fort Lauderdale, converted seven of eight break-point opportunities against Ostapenko and overcame five breaks of her own service during the 1 hour and 31 minute match. She outpointed the Latvian 73-55.
“Sometimes I was aggressive when I didn’t have to,” Ostapenko told WTATennis.com after the match. “In the first set it was working pretty well. Then, some moments I stepped a little bit back. I had to step forward in the court to take away time from her, which I didn’t, so probably that’s why I lost.”
What a remarkable journey it’s been for Stephens in Miami en route to winning her first WTA Premier Mandatory title and sixth WTA title overall. From the fourth round through the final, Stephens played and defeated four consecutive Grand Slam champions. She beat No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza, No. 10 Angelique Kerber, former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and No.5 Ostapenko. Stephens will make her WTA Top 10 debut next week at the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, South Carolina, where she’s seeded fourth.
In an interview for the WTA Insider Podcast, Stephens looked back on her third round match against Monica Niculescu as a turning point that gave her confidence to succeed the rest of the tournament. “I think that a lot of work is done when there’s no crowd and there’s non one there and you’re playing a player who’s extremely difficult to play. Someone that can chop you up at any point. It’s not easy. You work so hard during those matches to be able to play on Center Court to be able to play the No. 3 player or the No. 10 player, to play those great matches.
“I think the easy part is when you’re playing on Center Court! When you’re playing someone like Monica, mind you, I love Monica. She’s a great player, she’s just a nightmare to play. An absolute nightmare. Playing someone like that, that’s when you really get pushed and you get pushed to your limits. Maybe not for everyone, but for me, those types of things are the learning lessons that I need to be able to improve and get better and play my best tennis on this Center Court here.”
Bryan brothers win fifth Miami Open doubles title
The Bryan brothers – twins Bob and Mike – won their fifth Miami Open men’s doubles title by defeating Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev, both from Russia, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 10-4. The No. 4 seed Bryans won 85 percent of the first-serve points en route to winning their 37th ATP Masters 1000 title and their 115th ATP World Tour doubles title as a team.
“They were in diapers when we were playing our first tournaments.”
— Miami Open (@MiamiOpen) 31. März 2018
Isner going after his first ATP Masters 1000 title
No. 14 seed John Isner has played in the Miami Open 11 times during his career and owns a 20-10 win-loss record in singles matches played at the Crandon Tennis Center. However, the 6-foot-10-inch American has never won a singles title on Key Biscayne. On Sunday, playing in his first ATP Tour final of the year – and with a Top 10 ranking awaiting him next week – Isner will face World No. 5 Alexander Zverev, seeded fourth, who is 8-2 in his last 10 hard court matches and owns a 12-3 record in matches in Miami. It will be the tournament’s last men’s singles final at Crandon Park as the Miami Open moves north next year to a brand new facility adjacent to Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League.
Isner, who ended Juan Martín del Potro‘s 15-match winning streak in the semifinals on Friday, is winless in three previous ATP Masters 1000 finals. He lost to Roger Federer at Indian Wells in 2012; lost to Rafael Nadal at Cincinnati in 2013 and lost to Andy Murray at Paris in 2016.
“I’m playing the best tennis I’ve played in a very long time,” said Isner, 32, during an on-court interview after his win. He dropped just 11 points on his serve in besting del Potro. “I’m so happy to be doing it here. The key for me has been holding my serve. I’ve been playing better with each match.”
Meanwhile, the 20-year-old Zverev (who turns 21 on April 20), won two Masters 1000 titles during his breakout year of 2017 in Rome and Montreal. If Zverev beats Isner, he would move up to No. 3 on Monday. Interviewed by ATPWorldTour.com, Zverev said, “I think I’m playing okay. I’m playing well now. Hopefully I can continue so in the final, and we’ll see how that goes.”
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.