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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Sloane Stephens grinds down Naomi Osaka to win WTA Finals clash

American runs away with final set of a match that until then was packed full of quality from both players

Sloane Stephens waves to the crowd after defeating Naomi Osaka at the WTA Finals. EPA
Sloane Stephens waves to the crowd after defeating Naomi Osaka at the WTA Finals. EPA

US Open champion Naomi Osaka said she was frustrated with herself after losing her opening WTA Finals match to Sloane Stephens in Singapore yesterday.

Osaka looked to be taking control of the match after winning the second set, but the Japanese No 1 was blown away by American Stephens to lose 7-5, 4-6, 6-1.

"It was kind of hard for me. My timing was really off. I think I was super far behind the baseline, which is not my playing style," Osaka, 21, told reporters after her red group opener.

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Osaka rarely gets animated on court, yet the world No 4 spent much of the match chastising herself over unforced errors and even sank to her knees when she was broken for a second time in the deciding set.

"That was something I'm not really proud of. I feel like I play better when no one knows what I'm thinking," she said.

One crumb of comfort for Osaka is that she can still advance to the semi-finals if she wins at least one of her remaining pool matches against Angelique Kerber and Kiki Bertens.

"Yeah, I think it's really cool that you can keep going even after you lose. I think that this tournament is really special in that way, because there is no other tournament during the year that does a round-robin format," she said.

"So I think that the fact that you get another chance to learn from your mistakes and apply it in the matches going on is something that's really good."

While Osaka somewhat self-destructed, full credit must go to Stephens, who kept her focus to seal an impressive victory against one of the form players of the WTA Tour.

"I thought I played a really good match," Stephens said in her post-match press conference. "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 knew from the very beginning it was going to be a tough match, so I was going to have to stay in a lot of long points and make sure that I made a lot of plays on the ball, which I did.

"I thought when she was hitting good shots, I got my racquet on a lot of the balls and I just made her play an extra ball."

Kiki Bertens later joined Stephens in winning her opening red group match after the world No 10 from the Netherlands staged a comeback to defeat German second seed Angelique Kerber.

Wimbledon champion Kerber charged through the first set before claiming a 2-0 lead in the second, only for Bertens to storm back and clinch a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.

"I'm really happy to get the win here today," Bertens said on-court after the match. "It was a slow start but I was really happy to turn around this match.

"I had a little chat with my coach when it wasn't going so well, so we decided to go a little bit more for my shots, play a little more aggressive and it worked out."

Bertens' victory not only secured the Dutchwoman a memorable win on her WTA Finals debut, but it also ensured that for the first time in the tournament's round-robin format, all four lower seeds recorded wins in the first round of mathces.