Struggling to find the right form in 2019 so far, world no. 8 Sloane Stephens is through to her first semi-final since October last year and WTA Finals after a rock-solid 6-4, 6-3 triumph over Petra Martic. The match lasted an hour and 19 minutes and, unlike at the Australian Open, Stephens had the upper hand all the time, landing 83% of the first serve in and getting broken once to put Martic under pressure.
The Croat gave away 45% of the points behind the initial shot, playing against nine break points and defending six of those to offer Sloane the decisive advantage. The first important moment came in game six when Petra netted a forehand to suffer a break, pulling it back in the very next game after a costly double fault from the American.
Fending off four break points in game eight, Martic prolonged the set until the next time she served, with Stephens who painted a backhand down the line winner for a 6-4 after 39 minutes. Sloane saved a break point at the beginning of the second set and it was all about her in the remaining games, securing a break at 2-1 with a backhand crosscourt winner and moving over the top with a hold in game nine after another backhand winner.
The last quarter-final match of the day also lasted for an hour and 19 minutes and it saw Kiki Bertens dethroning Petra Kvitova 6-2, 6-3 for the fourth semi-final of the season. Back in Stuttgart, Petra prevailed against Kiki with a strong performance in the deciding set but she stood no chance today, losing ground on serve completely for the third loss in six matches against the Dutch.
Bertens erased six out of seven break points and the Czech was nowhere near that pace, making too many errors and dropping half of the points behind the initial shot to suffer five breaks and propel Kiki into the semis. A left-hander sent a backhand long in game five to lose serve for the first time and Bertens added more fuel to that with a drop shot winner at 4-2 that pushed her further in front.
Kiki held at 15 in game eight with a forehand drive-volley winner, claiming the opener 6-2 in 34 minutes and building momentum before set number two. There, the 7th seed opened an early lead with a powerful forehand that drew an error from Petra who broke back in game six to love the score at 3-3.
Still, it wasn't to be for her on Thursday in Madrid, dropping the last three games and allowing Bertens to march into the semi-final for the second straight year in the Spanish capital after a forehand down the line winner in game nine.