Victoria Azarenka vs Sloane Stephens live streaming, preview and tips: Stephens should end Azarenka’s run to make first Miami Open final

Hannah Wilks in WTA 29 Mar 2018
  • Victoria Azarenka faces Sloane Stephens in the semifinals of the Miami Open 
  • Azarenka vs Stephens Miami Open tennis is live from Miami on Thursday at 1pm local/6pm BST
  • Watch and bet on tennis live from Miami at Unibet > sports > tennis
Victoria Azarenka (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Victoria Azarenka lost to Sloane Stephens at Indian Wells last week – can the former world no. 1 get her revenge in the Miami Open semifinals?

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

The extraordinary resurgence of Victoria Azarenka at the Miami Open might come to an abrupt end as the three-time champion faces off with the in-form Sloane Stephens, who beat Azarenka last week in Miami. 

One never knows what to expect from Sloane Stephens. The 25-year-old American is generally said to play well at home – three of her five career titles, including of course that US Open win, have come on American soil – but that didn’t stop her from crashing out of Indian Wells in the third round at the hands of eventual runner-up Daria Kasatkina. Stephens’s win over Azarenka in the round before that had been just her third singles victory in eight months and ten tournaments played since the 2017 US Open. 

And yet here Stephens is in the semifinals of the Miami Open, a Premier Mandatory event, for the first time in her career – and playing perhaps the best tennis of the six women remaining in the draw. And strange to say, it might have been her most difficult match of the tournament so far against the second-lowest ranked opponent she’s faced that’s been the most significant in putting together this run – a 6-7(1), 6-3, 4-0 (ret.) victory over world no. 70 Monica Niculescu in the third round. 

‘I think where the work is done is when you're, like, on Court 75 and you're playing Niculescu, and she's slicing and dicing you to Beijing, basically,’ Stephens said, looking back on the match against the Romanian after reaching the semifinals. ‘And you're having to really fight and struggle. I think those are where you kind of - you fight your tail off in those to be able to get to center court and play girls like [Muguruza and Kerber].’

Sometimes it seems that all Stephens really needs is to feel confident and motivated, in the way that surviving a tough contest with a testing opponent can make you, and then the magic happens – as it has done in Miami, where Stephens went on to completely dominate third seed and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza 6-3, 6-4 and then tenth seed and former world no. 1 Angelique Kerber 6-1, 6-2. Kerber was feeling tired after a marathon match against qualifier Wang Yafan, no doubt, and struggling with the windy conditions, but the way Stephens dictated that match was truly impressive – as was the way that she effortlessly exposed the Muguruza forehand and punished every foray into the forecourt from the Spanish player. Muguruza can’t win points when she’s pinned behind the baseline, but very few opponents can make that abundantly clear the way Stephens, with her heavy spin, did. 

Both performances were distinguished by a tactical discipline that’s sometimes lacking from Stephens, who has a lot of ways to win a point and often seemingly gets caught between a lot of different options. 

‘When you play a player like Angie... you have to execute your game well,’ Stephens said.  ‘And then you have to make sure that when you are executing your game you stick with it. Like a lot of times you can venture off and start, you know, doing other things.’

By reaching the semifinals in Miami for the first time – the first time she has ever gone so deep at one of the WTA’s four Premier Mandatory events – Stephens has guaranteed that she will rise into the top 10 for the first time (‘Finally. Oh, my God,’ the American said about it. ‘I'm so tired of them being, like, career-high ranking, no. 11.’) But she’s also got an excellent opportunity to go one round further and make her first Premier Mandatory final as she faces Victoria Azarenka for the second time in a month.

That’s not to say that facing Azarenka will be easy – as five women in Miami have found so far to their cost. 

Sloane Stephens  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
On an 11-match winning streak in Miami that dates back to her successful run to a third title in 2016 (while pregnant), Azarenka has demonstrated conclusively this fortnight what a crying shame it is that she’s been sidelined from the game for the best part of two years (Miami is just the fourth event she’s played since the 2016 French Open). Of course, choosing to be a mother is not something that should be referred to in those terms, but it is a genuine shame that Azarenka’s custody battle with her ex-partner over son Leo has kept her from returning to competition. The two-time Grand Slam champion certainly brings a unique game and a rare level of competitive intensity to the tour, and she flourishes on the kinds of hard courts that are currently popular in tennis like few others – again, as has been demonstrated this week in Miami, where Azarenka has beaten five opponents ranked in the top 50, three of them in the top 20, to make the semifinals: First Americans CiCi Bellis and Madison Keys (who retired in the second set), then crafty, testing Anastasija Sevastova, before recording a dominant 6-2, 6-2 victory over Agnieszka Radwanska, who had beaten world no. 1 Simona Halep.

Against fifth seed Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals, it wasn’t quite as straightforward for Azarenka, who lost three games in a row to be pegged back to 5-5 in the first set before edging it 7-5, and exchanged several breaks with the Czech in the second set before a crucial hold of serve for 4-2 gave her just enough of a lead in the scoreline to get the victory despite Pliskova looking more confident in the latter stages of the second set. But the 7-5, 6-3 win was still a very significant one – in fact, it was Azarenka’s first win over a player ranked inside the world’s top five since beating Muguruza and Kerber at this same event two years ago. 

‘It feels really good,’ Azarenka said. ‘Before the match I said it was going to be a great test for me to see where my game is at. I think it gives myself a lot of positive things to continue to work on. ‘And seeing the progress that I made throughout this whole tournament, playing first round to playing a top-5 player, I made a pretty good gap of improvement. So I want to continue to go down this path.  
‘I mean, I think I'm not a bad player, so I know how to win matches. I have a lot of experience. For me it's important to stay healthy, to keep improving and to be able to play.’

Azarenka seems to be intending to play the Madrid Open – although she’s frequently entered tournaments in the hopes of being able to travel there and pulled out when her legal situation won’t allow her to – so there seems to be a prospect of seeing the Belarusian back on tour. But will her run in Miami end in the semifinals?

Before they played at Indian Wells, Azarenka had a flawless 3-0 record against Stephens dating back to the Australian Open semifinals in 2013 – but they had never actually played outside of Melbourne, nor more recently than 2015. Stephens got the win 6-1, 7-5 in what was just the second match Azarenka had played since Wimbledon 2017, and the Belarusian is looking a lot more comfortable and competitive now – but a lot can change from match to match, and Azarenka’s match fitness is still scanty, to say the least. Moreover, Stephens has been playing so brilliantly in Miami, and her wins over Muguruza and Kerber – players who, in their different ways, share a bit of what makes Azarenka such a tough opponent – bode well. If she can stay disciplined and dominant, Stephens should win what could be a spellbinding semifinal to make the Miami Open final for the first time.  

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

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Victoria Azarenka vs Sloane Stephens live streaming, preview and tips: Stephens should end Azarenka’s run to make first Miami Open final

Victoria Azarenka vs Sloane Stephens live streaming, preview and tips for the Miami Open WTA semifinal match on Thursday 28 March 2018: Azarenka out to avenge Indian Wells defeat to Stephens and make a fourth Miami final. We preview the match and show you how you can watch the match live and bet in-play.

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