WTA Miami Open 2018 Final Preview: Jelena Ostapenko vs. Sloane Stephens

The second Premier Mandatory tournament of 2018 is coming to a close with Saturday’s final at the Miami Open all set between Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens. Following on Indian Wells, it’s another youthful final! I’ll be watching live on Saturday for the first time in a while. I don’t know if it’s just me but I often lose interest at the ends of tournaments and that’s kind of the case here as i’m already looking forward to Charleston! Still, this is a final worth previewing…

Semi-final results

From a set and a break down, Sloane Stephens went on a 10 game winning run to score a superb come-from-behind victory over Victoria Azarenka, 3-6 6-2 6-1 in two hours and nine minutes. While an entertaining match, neither played their best at the same time. After a passive start, Stephens upped both her intensity and aggression, and increasingly won more points behind her first serve. At the same time as Stephens improved, Azarenka lost her rhythm and seemed hampered by a leg injury/cramp in the decider.

Jelena Ostapenko beat the surprise star of the tournament, Danielle Collins, 7-6(1) 6-3 in Thursday’s late night semi-final. Ostapenko saved a set point in a quality opening set where Collins had displayed some of the form that had got her this far. Collins played close to the lines and attacked the match with bundles of attitude and depth. After breaking Ostapenko to love with a fantastic game at 5-5, Collins committed to going for her shots. The American couldn’t close it out as a level-headed Ostapenko produced a handful of well-constructed points. Ostapenko ran away with the tiebreak and didn’t drop her serve again as she came through for the win in one hour and 39 minutes.

The final

This final draws many similarities to the Indian Wells final between Naomi Osaka and Daria Kasatkina. Ostapenko and Stephens have never played each other before on the tour so there are no data points to go by. While both claimed Slam titles in the last year, they are into their first final at the Premier Mandatory level. The match-up also presents two completely different game styles with Ostapenko, the huge hitter, going up against Stephens, the counter-puncher and one of the best movers on the tour.

Both players are building form after slow starts in 2018. As I wrote earlier in the year on the blog, I was not worried about Stephens’s run of losses since the US Open. I watched her first round match against Zhang Shuai in Melbourne and was generally impressed with her level as she just ran out of steam against a quality player and with so few matches under her belt. I’ve been most impressed by her fighting spirit and she rightly keeps going back to the match against Monica Niculescu in the third round. Against Azarenka, she also never threw in the towel and was very resilient.

For Ostapenko, I was most impressed by her composure against Danielle Collins and dealing with the favourite tag. I enjoyed her chats with coach, David Taylor, where she was conversing with him. I feel she is becoming more mature on court in her game and demeanour. Win or lose, she has been more respectful with her opponents at the net this year which is nice to see. Even with the big triumph at Roland Garros, it is important to recognise that Ostapenko is still pretty inexperienced with this being just her third full season on tour.

Final thoughts

For the Indian Wells final I went with the more defensively minded player in Kasatkina. I think i’m heading the same way for Miami but with much less confidence, not that the IW pick turned out well!

Stephens is 5-0 in WTA finals (!) and has taken apart some big hitters with clutch and measured play in previous finals. I’m fascinated to see how Stephens approaches the match and whether she can prevent getting pushed back behind the baseline. I do think Stephens will need to step it up here and take a few risks, and that she won’t be able to rely solely on defence and movement.

Ostapenko has had a few dire final showings where she’s completely lost her way. I’d hope that won’t be the case on Saturday and particularly having won her last two, including the French Open final, from a set down. Ostapenko has demonstrated a growing calmness and belief in her game in the crux moments during this tournament.

I’m close to 50-50 on this one… Sloane in 3.

7 thoughts on “WTA Miami Open 2018 Final Preview: Jelena Ostapenko vs. Sloane Stephens

  1. Another refreshing final. Jelena is on a tear, fun to watch. I like this as much as the IW finals. If Ostapenko doesn’t fall apart in the final, Sloane has her work cut out for her. The onus I feel is on Stephens, cause Ostapenko is simply going to try and power past her. For the pleasure of watching a well contested final, I hope Stephens has her wits about her and plays as such. The least she should do is at least get Jelena into a tie break and play some clutch tennis. Those slow starts are dangerous because Jelena isn’t dropping her intensity in the 2nd sets, never mind a third set. This is a home court advantage for Stephens and she should play as such.

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  2. Well Stephensis the better player, but she needs to keep her intensity up. I feel like she usually plays best when she feels like the underdog, though I’m not sure she is in this one.

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  3. It’s worth watching Ostapenko, not just for the sublime shot-making, but for that slightly eccentric expression she has when waiting to return serve.

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      • I enjoy watching Jelena too, because she plays utterly without fear and goes for her shots no matter what stage of the match it is (as witness her superb return of serve at championship point in RG last year; Simona didn’t get anywhere near it). It’s good to see that her behaviour at the net has improved too.

        It’s struck me that maybe Sloane is the player Aga she wishes she was, and why Sloane’s won a slam and Aga (so far?) hasn’t. Not only is she extremely athletic and fit enough to be able to run down shots all match long, but she can also sustain it for a long tournament better than Aga can.

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  4. Well there’s one thing that has happened in this March and that is young generation making their mark, Indian Wells finals included two 20 yo competing for the big title and this time another 20yo gs champ against quite young lady and gs champ stephens, so that is making wta really interesting and promising. I hope all these young players remain consistent too. Well amongst all these I like stephens play the most because of her power and variety and she is quite good coming forward too. Would love to see her as number one soon.

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