Sloane Stephens vs Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova WTA Washington, D.C. final preview and match time: Can Stephens win her first title?

Hannah Wilks in WTA 9 Aug 2015
Sloane Stephens (GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

Sloane Stephens has recorded one important milestone by reaching her first WTA Tour final in Washington, D.C. Can the talented American go one better and win the Citi Open title, or will Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova be too good for her?

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs Sloane Stephens Citi Open tennis is live from Washington, D.C. at 5pm local/10pm BST. Watch & bet on tennis live from Washington, D.C. at 365

Whatever happens when Sloane Stephens takes on Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the Citi Open final on Sunday, at least the American has got one significant monkey off her back: Her 7-6(4), 6-0 victory over Samantha Stosur in the semifinals was her first WTA Tour semifinal win in seven attempts, and it means that she is no longer the only player ranked inside the top 40 who has never reached a WTA Tour final.

‘I’ve been waiting a long time for this,’ Stephens said after the match, and one suspects the world no. 35 is speaking the absolute truth.

Reuniting with former coach Nick Saviano seems to have stabilized things for Stephens, who looked to be drifting last year, and she has put together a number of solid runs so far this season: She reached the semifinals of Strasbourg and Eastbourne, the quarterfinals of Miami and the fourth rounds of Wimbledon and the French Open. Unseeded at the Citi Open, she has yet to drop a set in wins over Magda Linette, Louisa Chirico and Stosur (she got a walkover from Svetlana Kuznetsova). And in Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Stephens has an opponent against whom she should be able to play a very competitive final as she goes for her first WTA Tour title.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Only two years older than Stephens, Pavlyuchenkova at 24 is practically a veteran at this point, joining the WTA Tour young and winning the first of her seven career titles in 2010. Runner-up to Magdalena Rybarikova in Washington, D.C. in 2012, this is Pavlyuchenkova’s first final of a generally poor season which saw her lose in the first round of her first three events and win back-to-back matches in just three of her first 12 events of 2015 – reaching the quarterfinals of Monterrey, and the third rounds of Indian Wells and Madrid.

Pavlyuchenkova made the semifinals of Baku last week, beating one player ranked inside the top 100 to do so, before losing to qualifier Patricia Maria Tig. In Washington, D.C., she avenged her 2012 Citi Open final defeat to Magdalena Rybarikova in the first round before beating Belinda Bencic and Christina McHale to reach her second semifinal of 2015. Dropping the first set to top seed Ekaterina Makarova, Pavlyuchenkova came back to take the match to a third and was taken aback when Makarova promptly retired due to a right lower leg injury. 

‘I was really shocked because I didn't feel like she was struggling or anything. She was playing very well,’ Pavlyuchenkova said. ‘But maybe it's because I was focusing on my game and trying to turn it around after the first set. I've known her a long time and I wish her a speedy recovery for next week.’

Both Stephens and Pavlyuchenkova have been ranked inside the top 50, and both are better players – or more accurately, capable of being better players – than their current rankings (world no. 35 for Stephens, world no. 40 for Pavlyuchenkova). While Pavlyuchenkova seems to have settled into a general underachieving pattern, winning the occasional title but not a consistent threat, Stephens is still too young in tennis terms for her career to be defined and winning a first title in Washington, D.C. could make a huge difference for her.

Stephens and Pavlyuchenkova have never played, but both are capable of generating effortless power off the ground and play their best tennis when they are dominating from inside the baseline. This makes the equation a fairly simple one, with the player who serves the best and executes most consistently on the first and second balls of the rally set to be the winner.

Sadly for Stephens, I think Pavlyuchenkova’s greater experience – she is 7-3 in WTA Tour finals – and proven record of performing well in finals, as well as the flashes of inspiration she has shown in Washington, D.C. this week point to the Russian being set to claim an eighth title. If Stephens is to prevent that and capture the all-important maiden title, she will have to avoid any emotional flatness while playing within herself. It’s not going to be easy. 

Stephens and Pavlyuchenkova are scheduled on court in Washington, D.C. at 5pm local/10pm BST

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Sloane Stephens vs Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova WTA Washington, D.C. final preview and match time: Can Stephens win her first title?

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