A New Champion to Be Crowned: American Stephens, Qualifier Vesnina Face Off

Sloane Stephens is on a roll in Charleston. Then again, so is Elena Vesnina.

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The two in-form foes will go face-to-face today in the Volvo Car Open final, Vesnina the winner of their only previous match – in 2013.

But the slates will be wiped clean on Sunday after Stephens – who had won just one match in five previous appearances here – has flown through the draw and Vesnina – with her win Saturday – became the first qualifier to make the Charleston final in the tournament’s 44 years.

“I’ve never been in the finals coming from the qualifying,” said a smiling Vesnina, who was a finalist here in 2011. “So yeah, I have like how many matches I won? Seven? Seven matches in a row. Well, that’s quite impressive… That’s a big run for me.”

It’s a big run for anyone, and it will be Stephens’ duty to stop it. The American has been close to her best over the last year, winning her maiden title in Washington, DC, last summer, then another two this year, in Auckland and Acapulco. Sunday she’ll look to improve her finals record to 4-0.

“I think I’ve worked pretty hard this week… I just have to go out and do the best I can,” said Stephens, 23. “I just have to go out there and compete. We’re in the same boat.”

Stephens was 1-5 in Charleston before this week, but after two straight-set wins to open the tournament this year she saved a match point against rising Russian teen Daria Kasatkina in the quarterfinals. Saturday in the semis she came out swinging, winning the first set 6-1 against No. 1 seed and defending champion Angelique Kerber.

Kerber, however, was feeling unwell, retiring midway through the match with viral illness. Sloane is trying to become the first American champion here since Serena Williams won the second of two consecutive titles in 2013.

Vesnina has caught fire this week, coming in as the world No. 85 and having to win two matches in the qualifying. But the veteran, who has been ranked as high as No. 21, didn’t stop there, upsetting No. 2 seed

Belinda Bencic in the second round and then holding off No. 5 Sara Errani on Saturday, a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory.