DUBAI: Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic stepped closer to ending a four-year title drought when she squeezed past defending champion Elina Svitolina 6-2 3-6 7-6(3) to reach the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Friday.
Bencic will face second seed Petra Kvitova on Saturday after the Czech came from a set down to beat unseeded Taiwanese Hsieh Su-wei 3-6 6-2 6-4 in the other semi-final.
Svitolina, who reached the last four without dropping a set, lost her serve early and made 10 unforced errors as she surrendered the first set without carving out a single break point against Bencic.
The 21-year-old Swiss, who triumphed in Eastbourne and Toronto in 2015 and reached a career-high seventh in the world in 2016 before injuries stalled her progress, won 85 percent of her first-serve points as she dominated the opening set, but Svitolina turned the tables in the second.
The Ukrainian, who won the last two editions of the Dubai tournament, did not give up without a fight, breaking Bencic early before running away with the second set to force a decider.
Both players stayed on serve in the third until Svitolina broke to take a 5-3 lead, but Bencic rallied strongly, winning eight points in a row to regain the upper hand.
Svitolina saved three match points to send the contest into a tiebreak and this time Bencic made no mistake, winning four of the last five points to book her spot in the final.
Australian Open runner-up Kvitova lost the opening set against Hsieh but made an astute tactical adjustment midway through the match that changed the course of the contest.
The Taiwanese, who knocked out Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber and fourth seed Karolina Pliskova during her run to the semi-finals, kept Kvitova guessing with her unorthodox shot selection and soon had the world number four on the back foot.
“It was a tough one today, for sure,” Kvitova, the winner of two Wimbledon titles, said. “She really didn’t give me anything for free. It was a tough first set. I’m glad that I was able to came back in the second. I didn’t play great at the end of the first.”
Kvitova, the champion in Dubai in 2013, switched things up in the second set, stepping up well within the baseline to take time away from Hsieh and rushing to the net behind her own powerful serve.
The new approach paid dividends and Kvitova began reeling off winners at will as she raced into a 4-1 lead before claiming the set to force a decider.
The pair began the third set with an exchange of service breaks, but Kvitova broke again and then held her serve to get in front before wrapping up the win.
In the end, Hsieh had no answer to Kvitova’s raw power, mustering just 14 clean winners compared to 48 from her opponent.