If you’re searching for one point that sums up Sloane Stephens’ 7-6 (5), 6-1 win over Jelena Ostapenko in the Miami Open final, look no further than the penultimate one.
Serving at 5-1, 30-0 in the second set, two points from the title, Stephens ran down a pair of hard-hit ground strokes from her opponent. When Ostapenko hooked a forehand at a sharp crosscourt angle on the next shot, it looked like the point would finally be hers. That is, until Stephens bolted to her right, raced after the ball, and found herself with enough time to whip a topspin forehand of her own back crosscourt. Ostapenko, despite having watched Stephens make dozens of other full-stretch gets over the course of the match, was taken by surprise. Caught off guard, she could only poke her next shot into the net.
This was Sloane showing us what makes her such a subtly effective athlete. Rather than use her natural explosiveness to take the offensive, she uses it to defuse her opponents’ attack. She’s fast enough to get to balls that few other players can get, but she also has the ability to do something with the those balls when she gets to them: to counterpunch with pace, depth and heavy spin of her own. In the point described above, Ostapenko had a wide-open court for her last shot, but Stephens robbed her of the time she needed to hit it.