SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Sloane Stephens was delighted to have started her debut WTA Finals tournament with a hard-fought 7-5 4-6 6-1 victory over Naomi Osaka on Monday, especially after the American dropped a tight second set when she had appeared in total control.
Stephens, Osaka’s predecessor as U.S. Open champion, stayed calm throughout the contest, adopting a patient approach from the baseline before unleashing her devastating forehand to keep her Japanese opponent pinned at the back of the court.
“No, I kept playing positive and strong,” the world number six told reporters of her approach to the deciding set of their Red Group round robin opener.
“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.
“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.”
Stephens, who won the 2017 U.S. Open after spending 11 months out with a foot injury, said she could sympathize with Osaka after the 21-year-old complained of exhaustion in her two tournament appearances since last month’s triumph in New York.
“Yeah, I mean, I can definitely relate. After the U.S. Open I probably shouldn’t have played the entire rest of the season, because I was so exhausted,” Stephens said.
“I think our situations are a little different. I played like four tournaments after not having played for 11 months, so I was probably more tired than she was.
“But I think I totally understand, and I think that to go play at home in Tokyo was really important for her or her fans, for her country. You can only applaud that,” The American added of Osaka’s run to the Pan Pacific Open final.
“But definitely can relate on being tired and needing to regroup and play — you know, I think she took the next week off.
“She did what was best for her. But I think obviously playing in your home country the only tournament of the year I think is important, and I thought that she did a great job.”
Stephens will conclude round robin play against Angelique Kerber and Kiki Bertens, and will advance to the semi-finals should she claim one of the top two places in the Red Group.
Editing by John O'Brien; editing by Ken Ferris