Stephens is looking to win her biggest title since lifting the 2017 US Open while Svitolina is bidding to win the biggest trophy of her career, following a sub-par second half of the season.
The fifth-seeded Stephens came back from 0-6, 0-2 down against Karolina Pliskova in Saturday’s semi-final to defeat the Czech 0-6, 6-4, 6-1 and become the first American woman not named Williams to reach the final of the WTA Finals since 2001.
Stephens, who won all three of her group stage matches, had an alarming start against Pliskova, and admits she was trying to do anything to avoid complete humiliation on the court.
“I was thinking, ‘S***. I made it all the way to the semi-final, and I’m going to lose? Oh, no. It’s, like, this is so embarrassing’. Yeah, that was it, basically. I was, like, ‘I’m going to lose 6-0, 6-0’. It’s like I’m trying so hard. Nothing’s working. But then I won one game. Then you know the rest,” explained Stephens.
“You never know what can happen. Obviously there’s been situations where I’ve been down like 5-2, 4-1, you come back, whatever. But in this situation on this stage, like the semi-final, trying to make the finals, like, my first year-end that I have ever played, there was a lot on the line. I think I just, from the very first match here, I gave it my absolute all, like even the battles to three sets, whatever, I was just going out there and trying to play my butt off.
“That’s what I did today. I didn’t really think about it too much. Yeah, I was bummed that I wasn’t playing well at the beginning, but once I kind of got going, I felt obviously a lot better.”
Stephens had spoken earlier in the week about how she felt that herself, and her fellow bottom four seeds, came to Singapore with a purpose and looking to prove their naysayers wrong. Her latest success, on her WTA Finals debut nonetheless is definitely an effective way of achieving that.
“I think my biggest thing was obviously after the US Open last year, everyone was, like, ‘Oh, she’s a one-hit wonder, she’ll never do anything again, it was just lucky, no one was playing, blah, blah, blah’, and I think this season I was just like I really want to play a little more consistent, I want to have some better results in the bigger tournaments and just do better and show that I’m, you know, I’m a top-10 player or top whatever player,” said Stephens.
“I think I did that throughout the year. Obviously winning Miami, finals of another Grand Slam, finals in Montreal, quarters of the US Open defending a title. Could I have done better? Yeah. Could I have done better in smaller tournaments? Could I have done some things differently, schedule changes, whatever? Yeah, I could have.
“But I think off of not playing tennis for 11 months and having surgery and having to reset my whole life and career and kind of figure out what was really important to me tennis-wise, I think that this year I have done extremely well. I don’t think anyone can say that I had a bad season.”
The 25-year-old American takes a 2-1 head-to-head record lead over Svitolina into their final on Sunday. Svitolina has an impressive 12-2 win-loss record in finals though and has won her last eight title deciders. By virtue of reaching the final, Svitolina will receive the biggest paycheck of her career, scooping $1.2m.
The Ukrainian, who overcame Kiki Bertens 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-4 in a 2hr 38min semi-final on Saturday also explained how the constant critique of her body and results in the second half of the season has been a motivating factor for her to excel in Singapore this week.
“When I qualified for this tournament, definitely decided that I’m going to just go for it and, you know, I’m good enough, I’m going to trust my game, gonna trust myself. And here I am in the final, so it’s something that’s really matters with me and really special moment for me, and I think definitely for the future it’s something that I can be proud of,” added Svitolina.
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.
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.
Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki has revealed she has been suffering with rheumatoid arthritis for the last few months.
Wozniacki, who won the Australian Open in January, was diagnosed with the auto-immune disease prior to the US Open this summer, but has been able to play through it.
The Dane’s 2018 season came to an end as she was knocked out of the WTA Finals at the group stage after a defeat to Elina Svitolina and she will now use the off-season to plan how to manage the illness, which causes swelling of the joints and fatigue.
She told a press conference: “In the beginning it was a shock. Just you feel like you’re the fittest athlete out there, or that’s in my head, that’s what I’m known for, and all of a sudden you have this to work with.
“It’s obviously not ideal for anybody and I think when you’re a professional athlete, it’s also not even more ideal. But you find a plan, figure out what to do, you do your research, and thankfully there are great things now that you can do to it and do about it.
“You just kind of move on from it and work through it and figure out how to deal with it and live with it.
"After Wimbledon I wasn't feeling well, I thought it was just the flu. I was on vacation and I wasn't feeling good. I go to Washington, knees are hurting. I play in Montreal and something still doesn't feel right..."@CaroWozniacki talks about her rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis pic.twitter.com/RFuNBJroZ7
"After Wimbledon I wasn't feeling well, I thought it was just the flu. I was on vacation and I wasn't feeling good. I go to Washington, knees are hurting. I play in Montreal and something still doesn't feel right..."@CaroWozniacki talks about her rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis pic.twitter.com/RFuNBJroZ7— WTA (@WTA) October 25, 2018
“You learn how to just cope after matches. Some days you wake up and you can’t get out of bed and you just have to know that’s how it is, but other days you live and you’re fine. You don’t even feel like you have it.
“It’s something that now I’m happy that I’m done with the season and you can just kind of control it a little bit more and figure out a plan how to control it even better in the future.
“Some people can go into remission and some people it just stops, the disease, and it’s just right there and it’s not going to get worse, or if it does, it’s slowly.
“The medicine now is so amazing so I’m not worried about it. So that’s great. You just have to be aware.”
Wozniacki did suffer a drop in results after her diagnosis, until bouncing back in style, winning the China Open in Beijing earlier this month.