No. 2 Kerber retires at Volvo Car Open due to illness

Sloane Stephens of the U.S. returns a shot to Elena Vesnina of Russia during their finals tennis match at the Volvo Car Open in Charleston S.C. Sunday

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, ranked No. 2 in the world, retired because of a viral illness during her semifinal match at the Volvo Car Open, sending American Sloane Stephens to the finals. "It's sad that it had to be that way".

Defending champion Angelique Kerber eased into the semi-finals of the Volvo Car Open with a straight-sets win over Irina-Camelia Begu. I was just counting, I had like seven matches in singles and two in doubles, so nine matches in one week.

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

Stephens said she didn't know when the match started that Kerber was ill. "I was thinking that when I'm going on court, the energy will come back and I will feel okay. So I was trying my best to win the match". "I honestly had no idea there was anything wrong", Stephens told ESPN's Pam Shriver and Cliff Drysdale afterward.

"I should do just do that every week", she joked.

I think the Germans love this tournament, Kerber said with a grin.

"Today I was just looking forward to getting out there, and the same I'll do tomorrow, just looking forward to getting back on the court".

Stephens will play Russian qualifier Elena Vesnina in the final after her 6-4 4-6 6-2 victory over Sara Errani. She has reached the fourth round at Roland Garros the past four years and is hopeful her Charleston win is a springboard to even more. "When I got a couple of opportunities, I took them, so that was great".

"I knew that it was going to be very hard coming from the qualifying".

"I just said to myself, "You have to fight for every point and compete".

"I'm pretty impressed with my game level, today as well because Sara is a clay court specialist. She really understands the strategy on this surface".

The fifth seed was the one who had the early lead, racing out to a 3-1 advantage.

Errani, though, staged a comeback to take the next set, serving at a 90% and breaking the Russian twice while being broken once herself.

Vesnina hit a service return wide on the final point as the big crowd at stadium court cheered.

Stephens will face qualifier Elena Vesnina in Sunday's final of the WTA Premier event.

It's been a wild season of extremes for Stephens, who is into her third final in six tournaments starts to go along with opening-round exits in Melbourne, Indian Wells and Miami.

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