Sloane Stephens pulls off brilliant comeback to set up Singapore final against Elina Svitolina

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Sloane Stephens and Elina Svitolina have been playing like they have something to prove all week in Singapore and they both enter the final undefeated and battle-tested.

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.

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