(Reuters) - The Miami Open women’s final will pit two reigning grand slam champions after Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko won their respective semi-finals in Florida on Thursday.
U.S. Open champion Stephens again ended former world number one Victoria Azarenka’s hopes of a fairytale comeback by beating her 3-6 6-2 6-1 in an afternoon encounter.
French Open champion Ostapenko beat unseeded American Danielle Collins in the nightcap, staving off a set point en route to a 7-6(1) 6-3 triumph.
American 13th seed Stephens has five career titles, while sixth seed Ostapenko has two heading into Saturday’s final.
“I’m feeling amazing now,” said Latvian Ostapenko, who wore down Collins with a series of powerful groundstrokes.
She hit 33 winners and ended the match in style with a running forehand winner down the line.
“I was fine until the end,” Ostapenko said. “I was just trying to play my game and I’m really happy with the way I finished.”
She said she had been working this year on her mental approach.
“Now I’m trying to be calm and I think it’s helping.”
Three-times champion Azarenka, playing as a wildcard in her second event after an eight-month absence because of a custody dispute involving her son, showed glimpses of the form that took her to the top of the rankings but ultimately ran out of gas against her 13th-seeded opponent.
Stephens, who also beat Azarenka in the second round at Indian Wells this month, took control of the match early in the second set and never looked back as she raced through the decider with ease.
“I just knew I had to keep fighting. In the first set I was down but I battled back so I knew if I did that in the second, I’d be right in there,” the 25-year-old American said in an on-court interview.
“I ended up winning a lot of games in a row and I just tried to keep the momentum going.”
Azarenka’s initial comeback after the birth of her child in December, 2016 was short-lived as she played two tournaments before a custody battle with her son’s father prevented her from travelling with her child.
The Belarusian may have played little competitive tennis in recent years but she enjoyed a respectable run in Miami, including victory over Czech world number six Karolina Pliskova in the quarter-finals.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina and Frank Pingue in Toronto, Additional reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles, editing by Ed Osmond/Amlan Chakraborty