MIAMI: Sloane Stephens battled into the WTA Miami Open final for the first time here late last night, recovering from a set down to beat former world number one Victoria Azarenka for the second tournament in succession.
It was an impressive display by the reigning US Open champion, who booked her place in tomorrow’s showpiece with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 triumph, just 18 days after beating the Belarusian in straight sets in the second round at Indian Wells.
“I am really pleased with the way I fought back after the first set,” said Stephens, 25, who is chasing the sixth title of her career.
“You never know what can happen, I have really had to scrap it out, so to reach the final makes it so special.
“For the first time I listened to my coach and I was able to get back into it. I just had to stay focused on myself.”
Azarenka 28, has enjoyed her strongest run since returning to the tour full-time having taken a leave of absence to deal with a child custody issue and with a current ranking of 186 was the lowest ranked of seven unseeded players to reach a Miami semi-final.
She will return to the top 100 following this run though will be bitterly disappointed not to have got the opportunity to win a fourth title here after making such a solid start.
Stephens has endured a slump since triumphing at Flushing Meadows last September but has finally found her form at just the right time.
Despite falling behind, the American, who will enter the top 10 for the first time next week when the WTA rankings are announced, upped her game while Azarenka, hamstrung by six double faults, lost her way.
The two-time Australian Open champion appeared to be injured as she sloped off court at the end.
In the other semi-final American qualifier Danielle Collins takes on French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
In the men’s section, Juan Martin del Potro raised the roof as he came from behind to beat Milos Raonic 5-7, 7-6 (7/1), 7-6 (7/3) and power into a semi-final clash with American John Isner in the early hours yesterday.
Roared on by a partisan crowd, Del Potro rallied after losing the first set to finally wear down the Canadian in two hours and 53 minutes of relentless drama.
There was little difference between these two big hitters, but it was the Argentine who held his nerve when it counted to book a last-four encounter with Isner.
“I love to play in matches like this,” a visibly weary Del Potro said after his 15th straight match win.
“We both played well, the difference was perhaps that I just played better in the tie-breaks.
“I am tired now, but at least I have a day off to prepare for Friday. It’s going to be important that I recover physically and mentally because that was a real battle.”
Del Potro came into the match owning the hottest streak on the ATP tour with 20 match wins this year.
The Argentine’s return to form has delighted his fans in Miami, where they packed the main stadium once again to cheer their hero ever closer to winning the “Sunshine Double” of Indian Wells and Miami on the heels of his triumph in Acapulco.