Sloane Stephens advances to Miami Open quarterfinals, eyes top-10 ranking
Via Sun Sentinel
Sloane Stephens knows she has struggled at times after her breakthrough U.S. Open victory last September.
Though she was voted the 2017 WTA Comeback Player of the Year, the Plantation native who earned wins against Dominika Cibulkova, Venus Williams and Madison Keys en route to that title in Flushing Meadows, lost her next six matches after the Open.
She arrived on Key Biscayne holding a 3-4 record on the year and hadn’t beaten a top-50 opponent since her U.S. Open run.
But Monday, the 13th-seeded Stephens was sharp, focused and efficient in a 6-3, 6-4 win over World No. 3 Garbine Muguruza, the reigning Wimbledon champion who entered the day as the highest-seeded player left in the women’s draw of the Miami Open.
The win marked just the fifth time in her career Stephens — who missed last year’s Miami Open during an 11-month injury layoff — has beaten a top-five opponent and just the second time she has advanced to the quarterfinals of the Miami Open.
“I didn’t play tennis for 11 months, and then I decided to go ahead and win the U.S. Open not in the best shape, not in the greatest form, and I really wanted to play the end of the season and [that] probably wasn’t the right decision,” Stephens said Monday of her recent struggles. “I made some decisions based on where my heart was, not where my body was physically. I think that was kind of like a domino effect. After Australia I just took the time to really get myself together. I mean, when you put in the work, you are able to get some results, so that’s kind of what I just go with.”
Against Muguruza, that work showed.
Stephens broke Muguruza to take a 5-3 lead in the first set and won three of four break points in an opener that lasted just 36 minutes. Stephens would break serve again in the second set to take a 4-3 lead before eventually closing out the match.
The win continued a trend for Stephens, who continues playing well on American soil. She has won 14 of her past 17 matches in the U.S. and will now face 10th-seeded Angelique Kerber, who advanced with a 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 win over qualifier Yafan Wang.
And more wins in Miami could help move the 12th-ranked Stephens closer to one of her biggest goals — cracking the top 10 of the WTA rankings, something she has yet to do in her career.
“Well, I will be happy, because I’m tired of people saying ‘And her career-high ranking is 11 in the world,’ ” Stephens laughed. “Yeah, hopefully one of these days, sometime soon, I’ll be able to break it. But, I mean, it will be a good step. That one spot will really determine a lot of things.”
Stephens’ win kicked off a solid day for American women on Stadium Court, with Venus Williams rallying after dropping her first set to defeat defending Miami Open champion Johanna Konta 5-7, 6-1, 6-2.
The win was Williams’ 64th on Key Biscayne and her second-straight three-setter at the tournament she has won three times.
It came 20 years after she won her first title here, something that was jokingly brought up during her post-match, on-court interview.
“I think she just played really well and was able to get a foothold in and played well at the right times,” Williams said of Konta. “Just trying to get a rhythm to her game I think helped me. Pretty much everyone I play plays me tough, so that’s the norm for me. There are no easy matches.”
In other action Monday, fifth-seeded Karolina Pliskova advanced after Zarina Diyas retired in the second set of their match, while Victoria Azarenka — another three-time champion on Key Biscayne — moved on after a 6-2, 6-2 win over 30th-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska.
On the men’s side, No. 17 seed Nick Kyrgios moved on with a 6-3, 6-3 win over 15th-seeded Fabio Fognini, while unseeded Denis Shapovalov — a semifinalist at last month’s Delray Open — upset 11th-seeded Sam Querrey 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.
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