Another thrilling Miami Open edition is coming to a close and although the likes of Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki and Garbine Muguruza had departed from the tournament early, we will still be treated to a tasty-sounding clash. Reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens have awoken from their respective slumbers to reach their first ever Premier Mandatory final; with so much on the line, who will receive a huge confidence boost by claiming the second biggest title of their careers? Read on for the preview…
 Sloane Stephens (No.12) vs  Jelena Ostapenko (No.5)
Who would’ve thought Sloane Stephens would be the one making the final of Miami after enduring such a terrible season? Definitely not me! Prior to this fortnight, Stephens had only won three matches – two in Acapulco, one in Indian Wells. While her game wasn’t there in those two tournaments, her fighting spirit was evident on court. These two weeks were definitely crucial to her confidence, as shown by her brilliant play in Miami. The American beat Alja Tomljanovic, Monica Niculescu, Garbine Muguruza Angelique Kerber, and Victoria Azarenka (her second win over the Belarusian in back-to-back tournaments). Stephens has been improving her game match by match and although she started the match against Azarenka pretty flat and passive, the American turned up the heat and won the last 12 of 13 games to seal her spot in her first Premier Mandatory final.
I don’t think anyone would have thought Jelena Ostapenko would be the other finalist this week either; just like Stephens, Ostapenko has had a messy start to the year, losing in the first round five times, and was not able to win back-to-back matches in eight tournaments played. Prior to Miami Ostapenko had not been able to beat a top 50 opponent this season but this fortnight, she was able to beat Timea Babos, Beatriz Haddad Maia, Petra Kvitova, Elina Svitolina and Danielle Collins. While I was not able to watch many of her matches, I managed to catch her semifinal win against Collins.
The first set was a high quality one and it felt like the 2017 Ostapenko was back – in control of rallies, moving her opponents around the court, but was struggling with her serve many a time. However she was always able to win the big points and this was the case today as she saved a set point when Collins was serving for the set at 6-5. Collins was impressive in trying to outhit Ostapenko, yet the big match nerves were there. Ostapenko showcased her champion’s mentality in the tiebreaker where she won it with the loss of only one point. (Stat: she is 5-0 in tiebreakers in Miami)! It was peakkkk Ostapenko in the second set as she won 83% of first serve points and was always in control of rallies. In fact, she ended with a positive differential for winners to unforced errors – a surprising stat for a big-hitter on these slow courts. And… she didn’t hit a single double fault in the second set!
Head to head: The two players have not met on the WTA tour before.
Stats: As mentioned above, Ostapenko is 5-0 in tiebreakers this tournament!
Stephens has a 21-4 win-loss record in tournaments played in North America in 2017 and 2018, while elsewhere, she holds a 2-9 win-loss record.
Stephens has won her last six meetings against Grand Slam champions (Azarenka x2, Kerber, Muguruza, Kvitova and Venus Williams). Her last loss to a Slam champion was to Caroline Wozniacki in Toronto!
Ostapenko is 9-8 against top 15 players since the start of 2017, while Stephens is 7-4.
Thoughts: While Ostapenko has been on fire this week, beating Kvitova and Svitolina, I believe Stephens has the potential to expose Ostapenko’s weaknesses if she is at the top of her game. Stephens can return many of Ostapenko’s aggressive shots with her quick footwork around the court, and with the slower conditions she also has time to set up her on the run forehands. Attacking the second serve of Ostapenko is something Stephens needs to do as well as the Latvian was only able to land in 54% of first serves against Collins. Playing in the day will give an advantage to Stephens as Ostapenko’s previous match was in the night. I think Stephens will be highly motivated to take this one in front of her home fans – and I’m bidding on her to do it, in straight sets.
Final Prediction: Sloane Stephens d. Jelena Ostapenko in two sets
Miami predictions can be found at the top of the page or by clicking the link here! Thank you for reading!