Sloane Stephens ushers bottom four seeds into WTA Finals semis - Preview

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Sloane Stephens continues to make a statement on her WTA Finals debut as she wrapped up her round robin matches with a clean 3-0 record, defeating top seed Angelique Kerber on Friday to advance to the semis as the winner of her group.

Stephens staved off a Kerber comeback in the second set to topple the German Wimbledon champion 6-3, 6-3 in 1hr 40min.

The No. 5 seed faces Karolina Pliskova in Saturday’s semi-finals, while Kiki Bertens, who beat Naomi Osaka via retirement earlier in the day, faces Elina Svitolina.

Here are four things to know ahead of Saturday’s showdowns.


GOOD WEEK FOR THE UNDERDOGS








In a field of eight, it is the bottom four seeds who ended up advancing to the semi-finals here in Singapore.


Stephens and Svitolina both went 3-0 in the group stage while Bertens and Pliskova produced some impressive tennis to post 2-1 records.


“I think obviously the girls that were the bottom four, so me, Svitolina, Bertens, and Pliskova, I think we have all had great seasons and had some really great results. I think that obviously the top four have, too, but I think at the end, like when we were all battling towards the end of the year, everyone pretty much counted us out, because they were, like, ‘Oh, they are barely going to qualify or barely get in’. I think that everyone came here with not nothing to lose but ready to kind of kick ass,” said Stephens.


“I think we have all played, the four of us in our groups, I think we have all played really well, like even though when I played Kiki, that was probably the best match I played in the group. So, yeah, I think it’s great for us, great for the younger girls just to be able to prove ourselves and even get this far and get here. Yeah, it’s kind of cool.”


This is the first time since 2003, when the round robin format was re-introduced, that none of the top four seeds have advanced to the final four at the WTA Finals.


ACE QUEEN ON TARGET


Pliskova is seven aces away from hitting the 400-mark for the season. It would be the fifth year in a row that Pliskova fires 400 or more aces. The Czech is also bidding for a tour-leading 50th victory of the season when she takes on Stephens on Saturday. It would be the third time in her career to tally up 50 wins in a season, after posting 53 victories in 2015 and 2017.



DAZZLING DEBUTANTES


Two WTA Finals debutantes have made it to the semis this week – Stephens and Bertens. It’s the first time this has happened since Ana Ivanovic and Anna Chakvetadze made the final four in 2007. Stephens is the first time a debutante to win all her group matches since Garbine Muguruza achieved that feat in 2015.


KIKI THE GIANT-SLAYER


Bertens has now posted 12 top-10 victories this season (has lost six), the most of anyone on tour in 2018.


“I think it’s just like proof to myself that I can beat anyone. I think that’s a really nice feeling. I think before I really had like, oh, those are great players, and I can never beat them. Now I’m still thinking those are great players but I have beaten them before, so I can do it, so hopefully I can do it again today. So I think it helped me a lot with the confidence,” said the Dutchwoman of her impressive record.




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