Stephens’ win puts her in top 10
AMERICAN Sloane Stephens had cause for a double celebration on Tuesday after beating Germany’s Angelique Kerber 6-1, 6-2 to set up a Miami Open semifinal clash with former world No 1 Victoria Azarenka.
The US 13th seed’s comprehensive triumph in tricky wind conditions over the former world No 1 ensured Stephens reached the last four at Key Biscayne for the first time.
It also means the reigning US Open champion will finally be named in the world’s top 10 when the WTA release their rankings next week.
She will meet two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka for a place in Saturday’s final after the Belarusian defeated fifthseeded Karolina Pliskova 7-5, 6-3.
“I am so tired of hearing that I am No 11 in the world,” Stephens said.
“It’s very exciting to get there, something I have wanted to do for a while. Getting into the top 10 is pretty special and something I have worked on for a long time.”
Azarenka, meanwhile, is enjoying her best tournament run since the birth of her first child in December of 2016 and faces Stephens just three weeks after the pair met in Indian Wells, a match won by the American 6-1, 7-5.
In an error-strewn clash with world No 6 Pliskova, Azarenka, who was given a wildcard into the tournament thanks to a ranking of 186, was broken when serving for the first set, only to break back straight away and take control.
The pattern continued at the start of the second, yet the 28 year old held her nerve to reach the last four of a tournament she won in 2009, 2011 and 2016 and complete a return to the top 100 when the WTA rankings are updated on Monday.
“Every match is important right now, I hope it’s a different story from last time we met,” Azarenka said.
“I don’t want to take anything from that match because it was terrible, although I did have opportunities but I didn’t take them.
“The possibility of winning (the tournament) is always in my head, but I need to take it one match at a time.
“I know there is a long way to go before winning the final.”
Azarenka’s return from the birth of her son has been complicated by a custody battle that limited her ability to travel, but she said physically she is firing on all cylinders.
“I have surprised myself with the transformation I have achieved since coming back from pregnancy.
“I have actually got in better shape which can be unusual for a woman. I feel physically well, I want to get faster and stronger but I am in good shape. I just need to keep working to get tournament fit.”
Stephens’ previous best in Miami came with a quarterfinal run in 2015, so the emotions on display at the end of what was an ultimately straightforward win over the world No10 were understandable. – AFP
ACED IT: World No11 Sloane Stephens of the US.