SINGAPORE (Reuters) - After Sloane Stephens lost the first eight games of her WTA Finals last-four encounter to a relentless Karolina Pliskova on Saturday, the American’s only thought was to avoid a dreaded “double-bagel” (6-0 6-0).
Humiliated and embarrassed by her performance, the 2017 U.S. Open champion roared with relief when she prevented the whitewash and then, remarkably, carried the momentum on to a 0-6 6-4 6-1 victory and a Sunday showdown against Elina Svitolina.
“I was thinking, ‘I made it all the way to the semi-final and I’m not just going to lose but this is so embarrassing’,” Stephens told reporters as she recalled her feelings at 6-0 and 2-0 down.
“I was thinking I’m going to lose zero and zero. I’m trying so hard but nothing’s working. Then I won one game and you know the rest.”
The American felt she had not been playing badly for the first set and a half against Pliskova, but that her Czech opponent was just reading her game so brilliantly in the early stages.
“She was just playing really well. I didn’t think I was playing that badly. I was making a lot of shots in the court, but she was just reading everything that I was putting back,” Stephens added.
“I just wasn’t aggressive enough. She was serving really well, so obviously if she’s serving well, that makes it a little bit difficult. So she was serving well, and I just wasn’t being aggressive enough. I wasn’t making her play enough balls.
“At 6-0 2-0 you don’t have anything to lose, so you can kind of do whatever at that point and hope for the best.
“I think that’s what I did. I just wanted to win a game. (I thought) I cannot be embarrassed. I’ve played so well this whole week, and I cannot let this be the last match of the season ... it can’t end like that.
“I just tried my best, and, yeah, it ended up OK.”
Stephens, who won all three of her Red Group matches on her tournament debut before the victory over Pliskova, will hope to recover after her emotional roller-coaster to be ready for Sunday’s final.
“That was a long match today, a lot more draining than obviously my other ones. I think tomorrow will be a great match. Get to the final, last match of the year, just give it your absolute all and just see what happens,” the 24-year-old said.
“I have done qualifying for my first final here, beat some amazing players, played four really great matches. I’m happy with that.
“I’ve just got one more to go. I’m just going to give it my all and see what happens.”
Reporting by John O'Brien,; Editing by Neville Dalton