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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

WTA Finals: Sloane Stephens sets up mouth-watering summit clash with Elina Svitolina in Singapore

Both finalists endured three-set matches in last four against Karolina Pliskova and Kiki Bertens, respectively

Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens reached the final of the WTA Finals after beating Karolina Pliskova. Reuters
Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens reached the final of the WTA Finals after beating Karolina Pliskova. Reuters

The final of the WTA Finals in Singapore on Sunday will likely prove the ultimate test of character and physical fitness for Sloane Stephens and Elina Svitolina after both players endured long and difficult semi-finals on Saturday.

A gutsy Stephens recovered from early embarrassment to storm past Karolina Pliskova 0-6, 6-4, 6-1, setting up a mouth-watering decider against in-form Svitolina, who outlasted Kiki Bertens 7-5, 6-7, 6-4 earlier in the night.

Stephens, the former US Open champion, needed one hour and 55 minutes, while Svitolina was tested for even longer - two hours and 39 minutes - by surprise semi-finalist Bertens.

A stunned Stephens lost the opening eight games before turning things around to win 12 of the next 15.

The hard-hitting Pliskova started red hot in what loomed as a one-sided contest before Stephens fought back with relentless hustle as the Czech went off the boil.

"I just tried to stay in it and started to feel the ball better," Stephens said after the match. "I'm really proud of my fight."

It was an unexpected result after Pliskova's early domination through power and precision to blitz through the first set in 31 minutes.

She pinpointed the lines to totally rattle a flustered Stephens, who uncharacteristically made a slew of errors.

After surviving an early break point, the one-way traffic continued in the second set with Pliskova breaking in the second game against a dejected Stephens.

The humiliation ended for Stephens when she broke Pliskova's previously impregnable serve in the third game and then started to find her range.

Pliskova's first serve deserted her as a composed Stephens forced a decider and her momentum continued by capturing a break to open the third set.

Stephens rolled through against a slumping Pliskova to complete a monumental turnaround, as the former world No 1 fell in the semi-finals for the second straight year.

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Read more:

WTA Finals: Surprise semi-finalist Kiki Bertens sympathetic after tearful Naomi Osaka retires

WTA Finals: Caroline Wozniacki sent home as Elina Svitolina joins Karolina Pliskova in semis

WTA Finals: Stephens and Kerber win gruelling matches to send Red Group down to the wire

WTA Finals: Player-by-player guide to the season-ending tennis tournament in Singapore

WTA Finals: Wozniacki keeps hopes alive as Svitolina takes big step toward last-four

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Elina Svitolina beat surprise semi-finalist Kiki Bertens to reach the final of the WTA Finals. EPA
Elina Svitolina beat surprise semi-finalist Kiki Bertens to reach the final of the WTA Finals. EPA

Svitolina through

Meanwhile, Svitolina is continuing a dogged quest for her first WTA Finals triumph by making amends for a lacklustre early exit last year.

Her defensive prowess wore down Bertens, who blasted 41 winners but made 63 unforced errors.

It ended a fairy tale run for Bertens, who only qualified days before the tournament when world No 1 Simona Halep withdrew from injury.

"I think physically I was a little bit stronger... pushed myself a little bit more maybe mentally," Svitolina said. "I think only a few points decided the third set because we both were playing good tennis."

Bertens said Svitolina's defensive skills forced her into playing ultra-aggressive.

"I knew that I had to play that kind of game, but that comes also with a lot of mistakes," she said. "In the end she was just a more stable player."

The world No 7 drew first blood when Bertens double-faulted on set point, as the Dutchwoman threw her racquet in frustration after a first set riddled with 21 unforced errors.

Bertens, 26, regrouped and was on the brink of levelling it up at 40-0 in the 10th game but cracked under the pressure.

She recovered in a tense tiebreak to force a decider and the twists continued in a pulsating third set.

Svitolina was unable to consolidate the break in a marathon 13-minute second game but hit back immediately against Bertens' erratic serve, becoming the first ever Ukrainian to qualify for the decider.