Stephens nips Cibulkova, claims second title of 2016

February 27, 2016 07:43 AM

By E.J. Crawford,

Sloane Stephens broke through early in her career, reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open and the quarterfinals of Wimbledon and rising to the cusp of the Top 10. But for all that success, it took her nearly five years on tour to capture her first WTA title.

Now she can’t be stopped.

On Saturday evening, Stephens topped former Top 10 player Dominka Cibulkova, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(5), in the Abierto Mexicano Telcel final for her second victory of 2016 and her third in the past six months. She added the Acapulco title to her win earlier this year in Auckland and her maiden crown, won in Washington, D.C., last August.

The encounter ran three hours and five minutes, making it the longest WTA final of 2016.

"I got a little bit better today because of her, and I wouldn't want to have this memory with anyone else," Stephens told, referring to Cibulkova.

Stephens appeared on her way to an easy victory on Saturday, taking the first set and going up a break in the second. But Cibulkova rallied, turning a routine straight-setter into a taut affair that went down to the wire. The 2014 Australian Open runner-up, in fact, was up 5-4 and 6-5 in the final set, but Stephens held on both occasions to force the tiebreak, where she raced out to a 5-2 and 6-3 leads before finally sealing the victory on her third match point.

It was an impressive week for the 22-year-old. After dropping her opening set of the tournament, to fellow American Louisa Chirico, Stephens rolled into the final without the loss of another frame. Her most impressive result came in the semifinals, when she blitzed No. 8 seed Yanina Wickmayer, 6-2, 6-0, winning the match in a mere 54 minutes.

"Obviously playing in the semifinals of any tournament is going to be tough," Stephens said after her semifinal win. "Fortunately, today I played some really solid tennis and played really well. It was a good day for me."

After climbing to No. 11 in the world in 2013, Stephens struggled with her consistency in 2014. She fell to No. 37 in the year-end rankings and got off to an uneven start to 2015 as well. The speedy baseliner surged in the second half of last year, however, and carried that momentum into 2016, bolstering her game and improving her ranking to its current perch of No. 24.

Following her victory Saturday night, Stephens will move up a peg to No. 23 come Monday’s rankings.

“I'm just in a different place. I've played a lot of matches this year already and got some of the confidence going, built up some momentum," Stephens said, adding later, "We had a great week and a great start to the year, and I'm looking forward to keeping it going."