Stephens' comeback steamrollers Azarenka en route to Miami final
Sloane Stephens produced a scintillating comeback from a set and a break down to oust Victoria Azarenka and reach the final of the Miami Open on Friday.
The reigning US Open champion looked bereft of belief after falling 2-0 behind in the second set but a stunning run of 10 consecutive games propelled her to a 3-6 6-2 6-1 triumph.
Azarenka, a three-time winner at this event, coped much the better with the blustery conditions early on but as Stephens' fightback gathered pace, the wildcard's movement looked increasingly laboured as she appeared to struggle with an injury.
That was of little concern to Stephens, though, as the American delighted the home crowd by earning a place in her first WTA Premier Mandatory final, where she will face Jelena Ostapenko or the previously unheralded Danielle Collins, surprise conqueror of Venus Williams in the last eight.
Stephens had defeated Azarenka last time out at Indian Wells and the Belarusian seemed intent on revenge as she raced into a 3-0 lead, her second break secured courtesy of a thumping forehand down the line.
The 13th seed hit back with a break of her own before surviving a fifth game that lasted almost 10 minutes, and she was back on level terms as a sensational cross-court forehand winner on the run set her up for a second break.
All that good work was swiftly undone, however, as an errant forehand relinquished the initiative once more and Azarenka took full advantage, breaking to love in game nine as Stephens netted.
A break apiece to start the second set further epitomised the topsy-turvy nature of the contest and Stephens edged ahead at 3-2 thanks to a backhand that just clipped the line followed up by a forehand into the open court on the next point.
She built on that success as a favourable net cord allowed her to pass Azarenka en route to a second break for a 5-2 lead and her sixth successive game levelled the match.
The momentum of the match had completely changed, Stephens romping 4-0 ahead in the decider, where it was Azarenka's turn to look despondent.
She had lost only four of her past 26 semi-finals but Azarenka seemed resigned to her fate, a wayward forehand sealing victory for Stephens, who let out a roar of delight at reaching her first final since her US Open triumph last September.