In-Form Sloane Marches into First Charleston Final

Sloane Stephens isn’t sure why everything is clicking for her this week. But in the end, all that matters is that she’s playing knock-out tennis.

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Having won just one match in five appearances at the Volvo Car Open, the 23-year-old American has brought her best this week to Charleston, going four-for-four and booking herself in the third final of the season.

Saturday in what was to be a blockbuster semifinal, top seed and defending champion Angelique Kerber was forced to retire due to viral illness, Stephens leading 6-1, 3-0. She’ll face No. 5 seed Sara Errani or Elena Vesnina for the trophy.

“I had no idea,” said Stephens of Kerber’s illness.

A new champion will be crowned in Charleston for the third straight year following Serena Williams’ back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013. Andrea Petkovic won in 2014, prior to Kerber.

“It was clear from the beginning what I wanted to do,” said Stephens, who hit 14 winners and broke Kerber four times. “I executed from the start. The wind was crazy today. It’s definitely tough to play in the wind, but it’s tough for both of us. To be able to come here and win matches in a place that I’ve never really done well, that’s feels really good.”

Stephens has been better than good this week. She registered straight-set wins over Danka Kovinic and No. 12 seed Daria Gavrilova before saving a match point against the Russian teen, Daria Kasatkina, to make the semis.

A new coach in Kamau Murray has helped her, as well.

“I just have to go out and play my game,” the world No. 25 said. “I have to have a clear plan and stick to that. That’s what works well.”

Stephens and Errani have split their two matches (both on hard courts), while Vesnina beat Sloane in Hobart in 2013.

“I’ve played both of them before so I know what their games are like,” Sloane said. “I’m excited to be back in a final.”

It’s her third final of the year after wins in Auckland and Acapulco. Stephens won her maiden WTA title in Washington, DC, last year. Charleston marks her first clay court final of any kind.

Kerber, for her part, was disappointed to end her Charleston campaign this way, having won eight straight matches here over the last two years. 

“I am sad and disappointed because I love Charleston,” said Kerber. “When I go on court, [I try] to give my best, and for sure I wasn’t 100 percent today.”

“I will look forward to come back next year because this is one of the best tournaments of the year,” she said. “It’s a great week always when I’m here.”