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Putintseva storms back to beat Stephens

Trailing by a set and a break, Yulia Putintseva digs in to defeat Sloane Stephens under lights at Ken Rosewall Arena, sending the fourth seed out of the tournament.
9 January 2019, by Matt Trollope

Yulia Putintseva looked destined to be packing her bags before staging a remarkable fightback to upstage Sloane Stephens at the Sydney International.

Stephens, the No.4 seed, looked completely in control of the Wednesday night match at Ken Rosewall Arena when she took the first set and went up an early break in the second.

She maintained her advantage throughout the second set and stepped up to the line to serve for the match at 5-4.

Suddenly, everything changed.

“I love to play on a big show court, so I was getting more and more excited. And then I was feeling like nothing could stop me. And I was just hitting and hitting (laughter).”

Putintseva stopped missing and became a virtual brick wall, while showing an impressive ability to pick just the right moment to attack – especially with her deadly backhand up the line.

A little of the sting went out of Stephens’ game at the same time, and these two factors combined to completely tip the match on its head.

From 6-2 5-3 down, the Kazakh reeled off 10 of the next 11 games against an increasingly frustrated, despondent Stephens to seal her spot in the quarterfinals.

“I’m very happy that I keep on fighting, keep on believing, and I could finally turn this match around,” Putintseva said on court.

“I was just thinking to keep on going, and something’s gonna change – maybe she’s gonna miss, maybe she’s gonna hit a winner. Anything can change any moment.

“The people around (the crowd) was really helping me a lot, seriously – I couldn’t do it without you guys.

“I got very excited when I start getting winners, and everyone started applauding me. I love to play on a big show court, so I was getting more and more excited. And then I was feeling like nothing could stop me. And I was just hitting and hitting (laughter).”

In the quarterfinals, Putintseva goes on to face No.7 seed Kiki Bertens, who advanced to the last eight via a walkover when Garbine Muguruza withdrew from the tournament citing illness.

Stephens, meanwhile, joins top seed Simona Halep on the sidelines.

Halep earlier on Wednesday was banished from the tournament in straight sets by Australia’s No.1 Ash Barty.

“I think it was a great match after almost four months since I played one full match, US Open,” said Halep, who struggled with a back injury in late 2018.

“She played really well. Her slice was great today, so, yeah, she deserved to win this match, but also I was very close to win. I had so many chances to break her and to take advantage, but I couldn’t. The break, it comes like up and I can feel that I don’t have the rhythm yet.

“No (back) pain at all. I’m happy about that. It’s a great sign. I will recover now, and I will see how I wake up tomorrow morning, because it’s important.”