Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Tennis: Sloane Stephens claims ASB Classic trophy

Sloane Stephens with the ASB Classic trophy. Photo / Michael Craig
Sloane Stephens with the ASB Classic trophy. Photo / Michael Craig

For a long time, it felt like Sloane Stephens was never going to claim a WTA title.

The American, who won the ASB Classic today with an emphatic 7-5 6-2 win over Julie Goerges, was seen as a player who couldn't take the final step.

She was well established on the circuit, had reached as high as No 11 in the world rankings but tended to get the wobbles in the latter stages of a tournament. By August last year, she had played 84 tournaments without a trophy, the worst record of any player in the top 30.

"At one point it was really bothering me," said Stephens. "People think I should win and I'm not winning. I didn't know what was wrong - am I doing something wrong? - but after a while I was thinking, 'it's going to happen eventually'. I put it out of my head ... and then I won a tournament."

That was in her first decider, in Washington last year. Today was her second final and the victory, ticked off in just over 75 minutes, was an impressive display considering the events of the previous 48 hours.

Stephens had faced an uncertain wait on Friday for her semifinal due to rain, then had to leave the court late that night - holding a 5-2 lead in the first set and all the momentum against Caroline Wozniacki, a player she had never beaten in five previous attempts. Back on court this morning, she completed the job against the Dane (6-2 7-6 [3]) then had to prepare for a final a few hours later.

"It was a lot of drama," said Stephens. "You can never prepare for playing half a set, then a set, then rain, then another match, so it was something to just go with and do your best."

And Stephens stayed relaxed, even having a siesta between the two matches today.
"I beat Caro, had a light lunch then had a little nap," said Stephens. "Then I woke up, warmed up again and then played the final."

Today's match wasn't a classic - nothing like the finals of the last two years - but was still a decent match.

World No 50 Goerges was the definite underdog but added plenty to the contest. The German, playing in her first final in more than three years, found her range early and delighted the capacity crowd with some precise shots.

In a tight first set, games went with serve until the 11th, when Stephens converted her fourth break point opportunity. She held easily in the next game to take the set, then seemed to break Goerges' resolve with a slashing forehand winner to register another break early in the next set.

Stephens should have been the player feeling fatigue, given her schedule, but at that point the energy seemed to drain away from Goerges. She won just one of the next five games as Stephens upped the tempo, to become the fourth American champion here since 2001.

"It feels amazing," said Stephens. "I've played some really tough players, and to play this morning and come back to play the final is something I've never done before, so I was really pleased with the way I was able to pull myself together."

And in keeping with her relaxed style across the tournament, Stephens was planning a low-key celebration tonight.

"I'm going to Ravi's [restaurant]. We have been there six nights in a row," laughed Stephens. "I'm getting three butter naan and two mango lassis. I'm so excited."

- NZ Herald

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