Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens reached the Abierto Akron Zapopan final in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Saturday, where she will meet surprise finalist Marie Bouzkova, who dispatched Wang Qiang in straight sets.
Sloane’s a great champion, I have a lot of respect for her. [I’ll] just try to play a good game tomorrow, have a good final, and just looking forward to it. Marie Bouzkova
Stephens, the No 6 seed from the United States, faced World No 100 Anna Kalinskaya in the semi-final, and went down a set and a double-break before the Russian began struggling with her back as the second set progressed.
At the same time Stephens picked up her play and the American charged back from her deficit and, after winning 7 of the next 9 games from 6-3, 3-0, she levelled at a set all.
At that point of the semi-final, Kalinskaya deemed herself unable to continue and retired from the match, injured, with the score standing at 3-6 7-5.
“I just tried to compete hard and fight for every point,” Stephens said, after the match. “Obviously it was difficult because she was playing really well, and it was kind of an uphill battle for me the whole match.
“I’m just pleased to be able to string some points together and win that second set.”
The former World No 3 is into her 10th career WTA singles final, and her first since the end of 2018, when she reached the championship match at the year-ending WTA Finals.
Stephens is aiming for her 7th career title although, after winning her first 6 finals in a row, she has gone 0-3 in her last 3 but, win or lose, the American is projected to return to the Top 50 of the WTA singles rankings on Monday, improving from her current ranking of No 57.
Meanwhile, Bouzkova, an unseeded Czech, stormed into the 3rd WTA singles final of her career with a 6-3 6-3 win over Wang from China.
Bouzkova, a former Top 50 player, is now ranked 96 and took an hour and a half to quell the challenge from Wang.
“I was expecting a really tough match,” Bouzkova said afterwards. “I was kind of prepared that we were going to have really long rallies.
“I know she’s a tough opponent, so I just tried to stay there the whole time, and I just played a good match in the end.
“It’s very special to be here in Guadalajara for my third final. I think I couldn’t wish for a better place to play it, and I’m just really excited for tomorrow.”
144th-ranked Wang had won their sole previous meeting by the exact same 6-3 6-3 scoreline on her home soil in Wuhan in 2019, but Bouzkova was able to level their head-to-head by firing 28 winners to just 13 unforced errors on Saturday night in Mexico.
Bouzkova went one better than her semi-final run in Guadalajara last year, where she lost to eventual champion and her good friend Sara Sorribes Tormo but, this year, she beat the Spaniard on Friday in a quarter-final re-match.
Against Wang, Bouzkova crucially saved 3 break points to hold serve for 3-3 in the first set, two with aces, and then used stellar returns to break the Chinese to love for 4-3, breaking again for good measure in the last game of the set.
Wang leapt ahead by a break in the second, but Bouzkova pulled back level at 3-3, and the Czech did not look back from there, winning the final 5 games of the match to seal the win.
For the third time, the 2014 US Open junior singles champion is just one win away from a maiden WTA singles title, having finished as a runner-up at Monterrey in 2020 and at the Phillip Island Trophy in Melbourne in 2021, with all three of her career finals coming on hard courts.
Bouzkova beat Stephens in their only prior encounter, a 6-2 7-5 victory in the second round of 2019 Toronto, which was the Czech’s break-through professional tournament, where she reached the semi-finals of the WTA 1000 event as a qualifier.
“Sloane’s a great champion, I have a lot of respect for her,” Bouzkova said looking to the final on Sunday. “[I’ll] just try to play a good game tomorrow, have a good final, and just looking forward to it.”