KEY BISCAYNE (Florida) • Keeping her unbeaten career finals streak was all the more "special" for Sloane Stephens after she extended her title run to 6-0 with a 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 win over Jelena Ostapenko to claim the Miami Open title in front of a partisan crowd on Saturday.
Stephens cut her teeth on the courts of Crandon Park Tennis Centre in Key Biscayne and, in her post-match interview, she admitted to having fond memories of the place, with the tournament making a permanent move to the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens next year.
"This place is pretty special to me," said the 25-year-old, who grew up just north of the venue in Plantation, Florida.
"I grew up playing tennis here and played all sorts of tournaments here. I have had some amazing experiences here.
"I just feel fortunate that I was able to do that here in South Florida with all my friends and family watching."
After a tense first set - which began with four consecutive service breaks and went to 6-6 before Stephens won the tie-break 7-5 - the US Open champion reeled off six consecutive games in the second to beat the French Open winner and lift her first Miami title after a slow start to the season.
Ostapenko, 20, came into the match without having dropped a set or lost a tie-break during the entire Miami fortnight, but both streaks ended at the hands of her American opponent, who has endured a slump since winning at Flushing Meadows last September .
"I wasn't expecting a title here or anywhere, really. I just wanted to make sure I got my game back where I wanted it to be," Stephens said in a courtside post-match interview.
"I knew if I just got back to the drawing board I would be OK."
She also admitted she had expected to do plenty of chasing against world No. 5 Ostapenko and that keeping a cool head amid a frenetic finale was key to her prevailing.
"I knew that I was just going to have to run a lot of balls down," Stephens added.
"The way that she (Ostapenko) plays is she has a very aggressive style, and sometimes, you can't outhit her or outrun her. You just kind of have to accept that she's going to hit some really great shots.
"I think that's what I did best today. When she was hitting great shots, I just accepted that some good shots were going to be hit and just didn't harp on it too much."
The crowd favourite had just six winners, compared with 25 for Ostapenko, but 48 unforced errors by the Latvian and Stephens' relentless defence proved the difference, with the American cruising to victory in an hour and 31 minutes.
The triumph will be even sweeter for Stephens today when she makes her long-awaited debut in the top 10 of the world rankings at No. 9.