Jelena Ostapenko vs Sloane Stephens live streaming, preview and tips: Reigning French Open and US Open champions face off in Miami Open final

Hannah Wilks in WTA 31 Mar 2018
  • Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens face off for the Miami Open title on Saturday
  • Ostapenko vs Stephens Miami Open tennis is live from Miami on Sunday at 1pm local/6pm BST
  • Watch and bet on tennis live from Miami at Unibet > sports > tennis
Jelena Ostapenko (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Reigning Grand Slam champions Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens face off in the final of the Miami Open with both women looking for their first Premier Mandatory title.

Jelena Ostapenko vs Sloane Stephens Miami Open tennis is live from Miami on Saturday at 1pm local/6pm BST. Watch and bet on tennis live from Miami at Unibet > sports > tennis  

It’s the French Open champion against the US Open champion as Latvian powerhouse Jelena Ostapenko faces the home favourite Sloane Stephens in a blockbuster Miami Open final on Saturday.

There’s a certain magnificent poetry in the fact that the two ‘surprise’ major winners of the 2017 season have backed up their triumphs to the extent of facing each other across the net in the final of one of the three biggest events of the first quarter of 2018. The Australian Open was contested between Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki, Indian Wells between Naomi Osaka and Daria Kasatkina, but none of those players could make it out of the third round at the Miami Open (the other reigning major champion, Garbine Muguruza, didn’t make it much further, ousted by Stephens in straight sets in the round of 16). And here are Ostapenko and Stephens, seeded sixth and 13th, the former ranked world no. 47 and without a WTA Tour title to her name when she won the French Open, the latter ranked world no. 83 and playing just her fifth event since the previous August when she won the US Open, preparing to face off in what could be a tremendous final.

It is perhaps less of a surprise in Ostapenko’s case. The Latvian, who picked up her first WTA Tour singles title in Seoul, made the Wimbledon quarterfinals and was a semifinalist in Wuhan and Beijing in the aftermath of that stunning singles victory at the French Open, has never seemed too bothered by the massively increased scrutiny and expectations on her as a major champion and top-10 player; at just 20, Ostapenko seemingly has self-belief you could bounce rocks off. Now teamed up with David Taylor, for so long the coach of Sam Stosur (and whose on-court coaching visits have been a big factor), Ostapenko had only won four singles matches coming into the Miami Open, but such is the nature of the Latvian’s death-or-glory game that she is always going to go through periods of losses – and always going to be capable of going on a tear with no warning. 

That’s rather what she’s done in Miami, where Ostapenko’s progress to the final has been almost surprisingly straightforward – the Latvian hasn’t dropped a set in victories over Timea Babos, Beatriz Haddad Maia, ninth seed Petra Kvitova, fourth seed Elina Svitolina and red-hot qualifier Danielle Collins. Her wins over Kvitova and Svitolina constituted the first time she’s beaten multiple top-10 players in the same tournament. Perhaps the most impressive statement about how well Ostapenko is playing when it counts? She has played five tie breaks in Miami, and won every single one. 

It’s not to say that Ostapenko’s performances have been perfect. She’s gone through spells of poorer, error-strewn play in every match – but with the assistance of Taylor reminding her time and again that she needs to commit to her shots, accelerate through the ball and play with the attacking mentality that won her the French Open, she’s always managed to stop the rot before it can cost her a set.

With the exception of Elina Svitolina, however, who has hampered by stomach pain during their match, Ostapenko hasn’t faced anyone who poses the kind of challenge Sloane Stephens does. The American’s multi-faceted game includes a great deal of heavy spin which helps her to grind through long rallies and outlast her opponents, and some very good defense to force her opponents to hit a lot of balls, but she can also hit plenty of outright winners when she wants to, capable of flattening out her forehand to inject lethal pace. 

Sloane Stephens  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
It’s a blend of skills that, when Stephens gets it right, makes you wonder how she ever loses – and when she’s not tactically clear about what she’s trying to do, not focused, makes you wonder how she ever wins. The American has been on the negative side of that equation since her superb, unlikely US Open victory, losing the next eight matches she played – a losing streak that carried her all the way into March 2018 when she finally snapped it in Acapulco – and although she got a first win over Victoria Azarenka in four attempts at Indian Wells, she promptly lost to Daria Kasatkina in the next round.

But Stephens does play some of her best tennis at home, and it’s proven to be the case again in Miami – starting with what turned out to be a crucial three-set victory over the very tricky Monica Niculescu in the third round (Niculescu retired trailing 0-4 in the final set). Digging out a tough win over a difficult opponent in three sets lit a fire under Stephens when she did it against Dominika Cibulkova in the second round of the US Open, and it’s worked again for the American in Miami: She went on to impress against Garbine Muguruza and Angelique Kerber, ousting both in straight sets (the first back-to-back wins against top-10 opponents she’s recorded in her career), and against Azarenka in the semifinals she recovered from dropping the first set, adjusted tactically and ended up not just outlasting the Belarusian, who physically faded dramatically in the third set, but outplaying her. 

‘In the second... I was just, like, Okay, well, I didn't really do anything wrong... I wasn't playing terribly,’ Stephens said. ‘I had a lot of errors, but I didn't feel like I was just not in the match. So I knew if I just kind of stayed with it I would be able to get my opportunities, and I did.’

When Stephens is playing with that kind of confidence – in her fitness, in her focus, in her ability to fight through a long match – she can be an unbelievably tough opponent, and that’s the challenge that faces Jelena Ostapenko in Saturday’s final. We know how Ostapenko will play – that she will look for every opportunity (and some that aren’t there) to step inside the baseline, to crush the ball, to go from side to side to get Stephens on the run and then hammer a winner into the open court; that she’ll look to pounce on the second serve of the American and expose her weaker backhand wing (although the Stephens backhand has looked very strong in the last couple of matches). 

The Latvian has more or less no choice other than to play that way – but will it work? I’m not convinced. For one thing she has never faced Stephens before, and I think she could be thrown by the difficult blend of skills Stephens brings to the court. Being forced to hit a bunch of balls is Ostapenko’s nightmare, so is being pushed back behind the baseline by heavy spin (it was a nightmare for Muguruza). I think a dazzling performance from Ostapenko would be required to render Stephens irrelevant; I think Stephens has enough options in her game, when she’s playing like this and feeling fit, to cycle through a bunch of them and drag Ostapenko into a dogfight. I think Stephens might well be able to just sit back, keep looping the ball and let Ostapenko combust from nerves. I’m hoping for a long three-set battle (it could very well happen), but I think Stephens could just about be the winner in this fascinating Miami Open final.

Ostapenko vs Stephens Miami Open tennis is live from Miami on Sunday at 1pm local/6pm BST. Watch and bet on the match live at Unibet > sports > tennis > Jelena Ostapenko vs Sloane Stephens

Share this with your friends

Your comments:

Jelena Ostapenko vs Sloane Stephens live streaming, preview and tips: Reigning French Open and US Open champions face off in Miami Open final

Jelena Ostapenko vs Sloane Stephens live streaming, preview and tips for the Miami Open WTA singles final match on Saturday 31 March 2018: Stephens and Ostapenko meet for the first time with the first Premier Mandatory title either will have won on the line. We preview the match and show you how you can watch the match live and bet in-play.

Read more »

You have unread messages

You have unread messages