Stephens’ win puts her in top 10

The New Age (Northern Cape) - - SPORT -

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

PIC­TURE: AFP

ACED IT: World No11 Sloane Stephens of the US.

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