WTA Finals Singapore 2018, Day 4: A festival of three setters, Kerber & Stephens tough out wins

The 2018 WTA Finals has been a festival of three setters with yet another pair of matches on Wednesday that went the distance. That’s now the last six matches in Singapore that have been decided in three sets! To add to the madness, all eight players remain in contention for the semi-finals, paving the way for a fun final two days of round robin action. Read on for reviews of Wednesday’s matches…

Angelique Kerber d. Naomi Osaka, 6-4 5-7 6-4

I was disappointed when a possible Kerber-Osaka clash was dashed in Beijing so I was very much looking forward to this match. Buoyed by an electric atmosphere, this was the most exciting match of the tournament so far. An engaged crowd always adds to the spectacle. A resilient, Kerber fended off a mid-match surge from Osaka to record her first win of the tournament, winning 5-4 5-7 6-4 in two hours and 29 minutes.  For the second match in a row, Kerber led by a set and a break but found herself pegged back. Kerber served for the match at *6-4 *5-4 but Osaka found her A-game, enjoying a glorious spell of play that saw her blast away numerous winners.

Osaka looked to be in the ascendancy at the start of the third set. Osaka though was inconsistent, unable to maintain the high level from the end of the second set. Kerber dug deep and ultimately played the big points better for the most part. There were two key games in the middle of the third set – Osaka had 40-15 leads in both, but couldn’t close them out. There was a pivotal point (Osaka mentioned it in her press conference) at *3-3 *40-15 where the Japanese player hit a drive volley straight back to Kerber when there was open court to hit into.

Much like Kvitova, Osaka has struggled on serve and return this week. Osaka landed only 44% of first serves in during the third set. You could hear Osaka lamenting herself after missing one – “Come on, your first serve sucks” 😂. Osaka mentioned it in her press conference as well and actually spun it round into a positive because she was proud of herself to be able to battle into third sets in both her matches without a consistent first serve. Towards the end of the match, Osaka seemed to let the frustration get the better of her as she simply didn’t put enough returns into court.

All in all, a good win for Kerber. The third set could have easily got away from her, particularly after what happened in the first match against Kiki Bertens. Kerber was mentally sound and successfully managed to weather the storm of winners from Osaka at the start of the decider.

Sloane Stephens d. Kiki Bertens, 7-6(4) 2-6 6-3

Regaining her focus and drive, Sloane Stephens recovered from a flat second set and a 0-2 deficit in the third set to maintain her 100% record in Singapore. Stephens beat Bertens in yet another three setter, snapping Bertens’s extraordinary run of nine straight top ten wins. It was a fluctuating affair for the most part that went into the early hours of Thursday morning. I guess it’s for TV and stuff, but I think the schedule is ridiculous with two matches starting at 7:30pm local time.

I was impressed how Stephens managed to turn it around and re-energise herself. The American showcased some sensational movement and effective angles to wear down an increasingly erratic, Bertens. Aside from the odd no-shows from Stephens this year, there have been many matches in 2018 where she has had to dig deep and grind out the win. This was one of those matches as Stephens’s fighting spirit kicked in.

This definitely seems to be a good court for Stephens. A nice touch again to see the American clap off her opponent at the end of the match and encourage the crowd to do the same. Just like the white group, all four players still have a shot in the red group…

Red group qualification scenarios

The red group is much more complicated than the white group with the possibility of the percentage of games won being a factor in qualification. A win for Stephens will see her qualify, while Kerber and Bertens could still go out with wins in their final matches. Osaka must win and then rely on Stephens beating Kerber.

Thursday’s matches

The final matches from the white group will see Petra Kvitova play Karolina Pliskova and Caroline Wozniacki take on Elina Svitolina.

Follow Moo’s Tennis Blog on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Feature photo by Omar Boraby.

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