Stephens wins in Charleston for third title of 2016

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LOS ANGELES: American Sloane Stephens won her third WTA title of 2016 on Sunday, beating resurgent Russian Elena Vesnina 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 in Charleston, South Carolina.

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The seventh-seeded Stephens rallied from an early break to take a 5-2 lead in the first set, only for Vesnina to win four games in a row and give herself a set point with a welter of winners.

Stephens kept her cool, won the set in a tiebreaker and powered through the second.

She broke Vesnina twice more and clinched the victory on her fourth match point.

“I just said to myself, ‘You have to fight for every point and compete,'” said Stephens, who had saved a match point against Russian Daria Kasatkina in the quarter-finals and reached the final after top seed and defending champion Angelique Kerber, the reigning Australian Open champion, withdrew with illness while trailing in their semi-final contest.

“She’s a great player, so I knew I had to stay in every point,” she said of Vesnina. “When I got a couple of opportunities, I took them, so that was great.”

Stephens, who lifted the trophies in Auckland and Acapulco this year, is hoping Sunday’s triumph will be a stepping stone to a strong season on the red clay of Europe.

“I love red clay, so starting in Madrid, I think I’ll have a lot of fun and just look forward to the French Open,” she said.

Vesnina, a former world number 21 who reached the Charleston final in 2011, reached the title match this year as a qualifier.

She toppled second-seeded Swiss Belinda Bencic in the second round, and is projected to rise from 85th into the top 55 of the world rankings thanks to her run. AFP

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