The semi-finals for the 2018 WTA Finals in Singapore are all set after the red group wrapped up on Friday. Sloane Stephens and Kiki Bertens both won to join Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova in the last four. The semi-finalists are the five to eight seeds with the top four seeds all vanquished! This post features a review of Stephens-Kerber, as well as a look ahead to Saturday’s semi-finals.
In a winner-takes-all clash, Sloane Stephens continued her dominance over Angelique Kerber to book her place in the semi-finals with a 6-3 6-3 victory in one hour and 40 minutes. I think the match was tougher for Stephens than the scoreline suggested. Kerber came out fighting from the first point and was noticeably aggressive, trying to dictate the rallies. Both players were firing their forehands with venom to start the match. Kerber had her chances to get the early break but missed five break point opportunities. Stephens pounced and then ran away with the set, eventually breaking for it, 6-3, after Kerber had finally sealed a break of the Stephens serve.
I have a lot of respect for Kerber on this display as she really gave it some welly. She tried to use the angles but Stephens cut them off most of the time with her superior movement. Kerber tried moving Stephens side-to-side and then going down-the-line which was successful on quite a few points but was a high-risk and demanding strategy. Kerber threw in the drop shots which were mostly terrible! She tried though and that’s all you can do. Kerber worked so hard to level up with Stephens at 3-3 in the second set. However, the American steadied the ship and regained her focus, winning the last three games of the match.
This was another impressive display from Stephens who was hitting the ball with such conviction in the first set. On a slow court like this, I think she’s going to be tough to break down, as she’s proven at Miami and Roland Garros earlier this season. Kerber tried everything but eventually ran out of gas towards the end of the match. Stephens extends the head-to-head record to 5-1 and hasn’t dropped a set in any of her victories. I’d like to see them play each other on a fast hard court because all of their meetings have been on slow to medium paced courts.
In the other match from the red group, Kiki Bertens sealed her place in the last four with a 6-3 retirement win over Naomi Osaka. It was an unfortunate ending to the tournament for Osaka who will now finally get a chance to put her feet up and perhaps reflect on what she has achieved over the year. Bertens was essentially awarded a straight sets win to confirm her place in the semi-finals. Bertens has held her own this week and then some.
First up on Saturday will be Elina Svitolina against Kiki Bertens at not before 4pm local time in Singapore. I think this could be a really close match. Bertens has competed superbly this week and her all-court game has been consistently brilliant all year, notching 12 wins (two by retirement) against top ten players. The pair last played in Cincy where Bertens won, 6-4 6-3. From her press conferences and form this week, Svitolina *seems* to have turned a corner. The Ukrainian player has been playing smart on this slow surface and looked more determined than ever, playing with bundles of energy and positivity. I could honestly see this one going either way. I’ll take Svits in 3.
The second of the semi-finals will pit Karolina Pliskova against Sloane Stephens. Pliskova won their last match in Madrid earlier this year, 6-2 6-3. Stephens has been super impressive this week, thriving on the slow court with stunning movement and rock-solid from the baseline. Pliskova has qualified for the semi-finals for the second straight year. For the most part, she’s been very consistent all year. While she has bagged two titles this year, it still feels like she has been coming up short in the latter stages of the big tournaments so this feels like an especially important match for the Czech player. I’d have to take on Stephens on this court though and with the way she has competed so far this week.