Sloane Stephens got her tournament off to a good start, overcoming the US Open in three sets in Singapore
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Sloane Stephens speaks! “I knew I was going to have to compete from start to finish and stay really positive and try to execute my plan. I thought I did those things really well and most importantly I stayed positive. I’m just happy to be through. I like the slow court but this one is a little different. The bounces are a little weird. But it’s the same for everybody. She played a good game. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way so you have to stay positive. She’s been playing well so you have to compete no matter what.”
So Sloane Stephens opens the Red Group with a gritty win. The first two sets were tense but Stephens was very good in the third and Naomi Osaka, who’s still very young, faded badly.
Serving to stay in the match, Osaka’s on the brink after a double-fault makes it 0-30. Osaka clambers back to 30-all but Stephens soon carves out a match point. Osaka saves it with a clever serve down the middle. But Stephens has another chance and all she has to do is wait for Osaka to double-fault again.
Third set: Osaka 5-7, 6-4, 1-5 Stephens* (*denotes server): Stephens breezes into a 40-0 lead. She holds with some fine serving. She’s a game from victory.
Third set: Osaka* 5-7, 6-4, 1-4 Stephens (*denotes server): Faced by three break points, Osaka keeps fighting. She drags herself to 30-40. But Stephens is on the prowl and she converts the third break point to establish a healthy lead.
Third set: Osaka 5-7, 6-4, 1-3 Stephens* (*denotes server): The game goes to 30-all. A glimmer for Osaka. But Stephens is too solid at the moment. She ticks off another game.
Third set: Osaka* 5-7, 6-4, 1-2 Stephens (*denotes server): These are difficult times for Osaka, who hits wide to give Stephens a break point. She saves, it though, and holds when a backhand kisses the line. Only one break in it.
Third set: Osaka* 5-7, 6-4, 0-2 Stephens (*denotes server): Stephens can’t believe it. After breaking, she quickly finds herself trailing 0-40. She pulls herself together and fights to 30-40. Then it looks like she’s missed a second serve. It’s overruled and she gets a second chance at a first serve. Osaka chooses not to challenge. Weird. Stephens makes the most of her good fortune and just lands a forehand inside the line. She consolidates the break.
Third set: Osaka* 5-7, 6-4, 0-1 Stephens (*denotes server): After a quick chat with the coaches, the decider begins with Osaka serving. But it’s Stephens who looks sprightlier, constructing a neat point to take a 15-40 lead. Osaka saves the first with an inside-out forehand and then she’s relieved to see Stephens knock a crosscourt forehand wide. Stephens earns another chance, though, and breaks at the third time of asking.
Osaka shakes her head clear again and earns two set points with a charge to the net. She nets a backhand return off the first. Then Stephens double-faults. Oh dear.
Second set: Osaka* 5-7, 5-4 Stephens (*denotes server): Serving to level the match, Osaka begins nervily, sending a forehand wide for 0-15. Then Stephens wrongfoots her with a backhand down the line for 0-30. Osaka summons some resilience to fight back to 30-all. But Stephens earns a break point and converts it when some magnificent defending forces Osaka to blooter an easy volley off target!
Second set: Osaka 5-7, 5-3 Stephens* (*denotes server): Serving to keep the set alive, Stephens sends a forehand down the line for 15-0. She holds.
Second set: Osaka 5-7, 5-2 Stephens* (*denotes server): Osaka isn’t having it her own way yet, with Stephens scrambling to earn a break point. Osaka saves it and eventually knuckles down to hold.
Second set: Osaka 5-7, 4-2 Stephens* (*denotes server): At deuce, Osaka attacks a second serve and Stephens can only net a forehand. Given something to think about, Stephen predictably double-faults. Osaka breaks!
Second set: Osaka* 5-7, 3-2 Stephens (*denotes server): Stephens has a spring in her step after that reprieve and she bounces into a 15-30 lead. Osaka, wobbling, shanks one wide to hand Stephens two break points. The American can’t take the first. Then Osaka just about deals with a backhand drive volley to force deuce. From there, she’s able to hold. Unpredictable stuff.
Second set: Osaka 5-7, 2-2 Stephens* (*denotes server): All of a sudden, Osaka finds herself with three break points. Stephens wipes out the first with an ace. Somehow she saves the next two as well, Osaka unable to find her range. Stephens clings on. That could be huge.
Second set: Osaka* 5-7, 2-1 Stephens (*denotes server): Osaka holds comfortably enough. She hasn’t really been at her best yet but she’s still in this.
Second set: Osaka 5-7, 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes server): Stephens holds to 30, Osaka whacking a forehand into the net.
Second set: Osaka* 5-7, 1-0 Stephens (*denotes server): It’s important that Osaka quickly shakes off the disappointment of losing the first set. Otherwise this match will be over before she knows it. And it’s a good sign that she responds to losing the first point of this game by holding to 15, four straight points doing the job.
Serving for the set, Stephens nails a forehand down the line for 15-0. An irritable Osaka nets a forehand for 30-0 and it’s not long before Stephens has three set points. Osaka saves the first with a backhand down the line, though, and Stephens wastes the second with an errant backhand. Stephens has to knuckle down and she’s patient enough to wait for Osaka to net a forehand, bringing a tight opening set to a close.
First set: Osaka* 5-6 Stephens (*denotes server): At 30-all, Osaka knocks a tame backhand long. She slaps her knee with her racquet. Another break point. Another error. Stephens breaks for a third time and will serve for the set.
First set: Osaka 5-5 Stephens* (*denotes server): Serving to stay in the set, Stephens begins by pulling a forehand wide for 0-15. But she wins the next two points after pulling Osaka off balance. Stephens passes the test quickly enough.
First set: Osaka* 5-4 Stephens (*denotes server): Stephens is annoyed with herself for missing a backhand at 15-30. That was a chance. The game goes to deuce. Osaka nets a backhand. Break point. Osaka looks unhappy. So she comes up with an ace. She holds. Stephens is under pressure now.
First set: Osaka 4-4 Stephens* (*denotes server): Osaka digs deep on the baseline and outlasts Stephens during a long rally at 30-15. Meanwhile a cockroach has wandered on to court. What are security playing at? A ball boy has a look and decides to fetch a towel. He clears things up and play can resume at 30-all. Stephens isn’t flustered, knocking a short forehand away for 40-30. But she can’t get over the line, two double-faults handing Osaka a break point. A tense rally ensues and Osaka takes control with a huge backhand that allows her to charge the net and whip a forehand down the line.
First set: Osaka* 3-4 Stephens (*denotes server): Out of nowhere, Stephens increases the pressure. At 15-all, she takes Osaka apart at the net. Osaka’s inconsistencies flare and a poor error hands Stephens two break points. Osaka nets a lame backhand and Stephens breaks again.
First set: Osaka 3-3 Stephens* (*denotes server): Another service game breezes by. Let’s call this the sparring portion of the match.
First set: Osaka* 3-2 Stephens (*denotes server): Another love hold for Osaka. The Japanese fans in the crowd enjoyed that.
First set: Osaka 2-2 Stephens* (*denotes server): The first two points are shared. Stephens soon scoots into a 40-15 lead. It’s low-key stuff. So low-key that Stephens falls asleep and produces a double-fault for 40-30. Not that it matters. She holds.
First set: Osaka* 2-1 Stephens (*denotes server): That’s more like it from Osaka, who breezes to an easy love hold. This could be tight.
First set: Osaka 1-1 Stephens* (*denotes server): Both players are struggling to find their aim. This game goes to 30-all, with Stephens going for too much on a forehand. Osaka earns a break point when Stephens nets a forehand. Osaka breaks back thanks to another error from the American.
First set: Osaka* 0-1 Stephens (*denotes server): Naomi Osaka opens the serving and, unsurprisingly, we begin with a long, cautious rally. Sloane Stephens wins it and Osaka immediately looks edgy on this slow court, netting a forehand to gift her opponent two break points. Osaka saves the first with an ace but Stephens goes on the offensive and breaks when Osaka knocks a backhand pass wide.
Here come the players. We’ll have tennis soon.
In the White Group, Elina Svitolina beat Petra Kvitova 6-3, 6-3 and Karolina Pliskova beat Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-4 yesterday.
Sloane Stephens speaks! “She’s very hard hitting and aggressive. I’m going to try to have to stay in there. And also try to be aggressive and take my opportunities.”
Naomi Osaka speaks! “Everyone knows Sloane is a really great player. She’s a grand slam champion. I played her once and didn’t win.”
These two have only met once before. Sloane Stephens leads their head-to-head 1-0. She beat Naomi Osaka in straight sets in Acapulco in 2016.
Hello. With Angelique Kerber and Kiki Bertens scheduled to meet later, the first match in the Red Group at the WTA Finals sees a super soaker take on a sponge. This one is hard to call. Fresh from her rather eventful victory over Serena Williams in the final of the US Open last month, Naomi Osaka is having a whale of a time at the moment. Japan’s first ever grand slam champion has the game to match her winning personality and the powerful 21-year-old has shown no sign of letting up since making her breakthrough at Flushing Meadows. This is the first time she’s qualified for this tournament and it won’t be a surprise if she rounds off an unforgettable year in style.
But this could be an awkward test for Osaka. As hard as she pounds the ball here, she might find that Sloane Stephens is more than capable of getting it back. Stephens, who won her breakthrough grand slam at the US Open in 2017 and is also making her Singapore debut, is an expert defender and the 25-year-old American, who has made a wonderful comeback from a serious foot injury, possesses the smarts to frustrate any opponent. She’ll probe for angles and look to force errors with her intelligent hustling. Osaka will hope to cut through all that with her awesome array of groundstrokes. It’s a fascinating clash of styles!