By Ros Satar, in Singapore

  • Sloane Stephens [5] def. Naomi Osaka [3] 7-5 4-6 6-1
  • Will face Kiki Bertens in the second round robin match, on Wednesday
SINGAPORE – Sloane Stephens came out on top in the battle of the newcomers at the WTA Finals, in a tense three-setter against reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka.

 

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Sloane Stephens [5] def. Naomi Osaka [3] 7-5 4-6 6-1

The two debutantes – Sloane Stephens and Naomi Osaka were first to open the Red group account in a battle of the US Open champions. It was a nervy start for both players, trading breaks at the start and in the middle of the set,

Where it initially looked like Osaka had settled the quickest after the brace of breaks at the start with convincing looking holds to love, Stephens slowly began to make the adjustment to the court, hitting a consistently heavy ball and generating more chances towards the end of the set. She was rewarded with a break and closed out the first set, much to the racquet slinging frustration of Naomi Osaka.

The second set did not disappoint with a competitive start before the break point chances came out to play. First Osaka failing to capitalise on four chances to take a lead, before Stephens squandered two of her own. Osaka got her reward though with a break before deflecting another point on her own serve to go up 5-2. She blinked ever so slightly as Stephens picked off two games on the spin to close the gap, before Osaka levelled things up.

There Osaka’s momentum ended, as she swiftly found herself 1-4 down to a more inspired Stephens. The end came quickly after what had been a thrilling contest between two great athletes with decent weapons, and with Stephens the only player in the group to have positive head-to-heads against her other competitors, the win puts her in an intriguing position.

Naomi Osaka in the first round robin match of the WTA Finals 2018, Singapore

Naomi Osaka in the first round robin match of the WTA Finals 2018, Singapore | Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

Osaka surmised that consistency let her down, and was the watch-word of Stephens’ game, as she made better of the humid conditions in the stadium.

“I just think consistency. I think I made more unforced errors than her in the third set. I don’t really think you can do that against her, so definitely I think that’s what made the difference.

“It was kind of hard for me. My timing was really off. I think I was, like, super far behind the baseline, which is a little bit not my play style. So definitely I really have to practice well tomorrow and try to find the feeling of the ball.”

Stephens, who is without Kamau Murray this week due to a long-standing obligation, was pleased with the way she regrouped after having dropped the second set.

“I thought I played a really good match. I played solid from start to finish. Obviously playing someone with a lot of confidence is always a tough task, but I think that I played well, and I kept a good attitude. So I was pleased with that.

“I kept playing positive and strong. I mean, I didn’t play bad in the second. Just kind of got away from me. I tried to regroup as best I could and played just like I was playing before.”

She will face the winner of the match between Angelique Kerber and Kiki Bertens, and her head to head over the German in particular is the most impressive.

She said: “Obviously Kerber, I have played some really great matches against her, so looking forward to that. But obviously her having won Wimbledon this year, semis in Australia, she’s had a great, will be a tough match.

“Kiki, she’s been playing well too. Either way, obviously we are playing the top eight players in the world, so it’s going to be tough all around. Just got to compete from the first point and just enjoy it.”

Stephens will face Bertens on Wednesday not before 9pm (2pm BST).

 

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