American Stephens beats Ostapenko for Miami Open title

Sloane Stephens
The Associated Press

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) — Half an hour after Sloane Stephens won her hometown tournament, she lingered on the confetti-covered court, posing for photos and signing autographs as if reluctant to leave Key Biscayne.

The Miami Open is moving, and Stephens became the picturesque island’s final women’s champion Saturday by beating Jelena Ostapenko 7-6 (5), 6-1.

Stephens was born in South Florida, practiced on Key Biscayne as a junior and lives in nearby Fort Lauderdale. She was eager to win the tournament before its switch next year to the Miami Dolphins’ stadium.

Fans jeered during the trophy ceremony when tournament director James Blake mentioned the relocation.

Seeded 13th, Stephens won with defense, repeatedly extending rallies until Ostapenko would make a mistake. Ostapenko had a 25-6 advantage in winners but committed 48 unforced errors to 21 by Stephens.

Stephens was the surprise champion at the U.S. Open last September, and then lost her next eight matches, including the first two of 2018. But she shook her slump on Key Biscayne, improved to 6-0 in finals and will break into the top 10 for first time next week at No. 9.

“It’s incredible,” Stephens said. “I knew if I just got back to the drawing board I would be OK. I wasn’t expecting a title here. I just wanted to make sure I got my game back where I wanted to be.”

John Isner tries for the biggest title of his career Sunday when he faces Alexander Zverev in the men’s final. Isner could give the United States its first sweep at Key Biscayne since 2004 when Andy Roddick and Serena Williams won.

Stephens and the No. 6-seeded Ostapenko, last year’s French Open champion, battled almost exclusively from the baseline, and the quality of play was often ragged. The finalists traded breaks for four games, and Stephens was broken twice more when serving for the first set.

She wobbled again leading 6-2 in the pivotal tiebreaker, hitting unforced errors to lose consecutive set points. But Ostapenko dumped an easy backhand into the net to lose the set, and the Latvian appeared to tire after that.

Stephens said she benefited from a pep talk by her coach after the opening set.

“I was a little nervous, and it was showing in my game,” she said. “My feet weren’t moving, and I wasn’t swinging through the ball. I just needed a little bit of a reminder to just go for it if I wanted to take the title.”

Stephens swept the final six games, clinching one with the shot of the match. Ostapenko chased down a drop shot and punched it back, but Stephens stretched near the baseline to hit a forehand volley cross-court for a winner.

That made it 5-1, and on championship point moments later, Ostapenko sent a forehand wide. Stephens celebrated by pumping both fists to cheers from her hometown crowd.

___

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

___

Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve_Wine. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/steven-wine

.