Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk, ranked 52 in the world and the No 8 seed at the inaugural ATX Open in Austin, Texas, upset Danielle Collins, the 2022 Australian Open finalist and former World No 7, in straight sets to reach her first WTA final, where she will play a Russian, Varvara Gracheva, who needed 3 sets to get past American Katie Volynets on Saturday.
Sometimes one point can turn things around. Suddenly it was 30-40. That was a crucial point and it didn’t go my way. I don’t think that’s why I lost the match. I think she was doing great things. But it is mentally difficult when something like that happens in such a close moment. Katie Volynets
“Obviously a special moment, very emotional,” Kostyuk told the press after her semi-final. “I lost four semi-finals prior to this match today, and I didn’t know what to expect.
“Danielle is a great player, a great champion. Very happy that the match turned out this way today.”
Born in Kyiv, Kostyuk, who is 20-years old and Ukraine’s No 2, is very vocal about the war in her homeland and has refused to shake hands with Russian or Belarusian players after a match, while she is also calling for them to be excluded from the Pro tours and the Olympics.
She is now the favourite for the title, against an opponent, who is a 22-year-old from Moscow, and is ranked 88.
Kostyuk took 5 of the last 6 games to eliminate Collins, 6-4 6-3, in the day’s first semi-final, while, in the second, Gracheva reeled off the last 4 games to defeat Volynets, 6-4 5-7 6-4, taking nearly 2½ hours in a match between a pair of unseeded players at night.
Under a bright blue sky, both Kostyuk and Collins enjoyed relatively comfortable holds through the first 5 games before the Ukrainian weathered the first pressure of the match, battling off 4 break points in a 4 deuce game to get to 3-all.
In the next, she carved out 4 break points of her own, and finally converted to open up a 4-3 lead before holding to close out the set in 43 minutes.
Now ranked 38, Collins, seeded 4, has shown some of the form that took her to the Australian Open final, and was trying to reach her first tour title match since getting that far at Melbourne Park last season before losing to Ash Barty, but Kostyuk held the edge for most of the match.
They exchanged breaks to open the second set, when Kostyuk pulled away with 2 more breaks of serve to advance to the championship match.
As a result, Collins fell to 0-5 against seeded opponents, and her career mark in WTA semi-finals is now 3-9.
Kostyuk, the 2017 Australian Open junior champion who has won 3 career ITF circuit titles, has now broken her opponents 21 times in 41 return games during the ATX Open, and is projected to rise to a career high of 44 by reaching the final while she could crack the Top 40 by winning the title.
In the nightcap, Gracheva was playing just her 2nd WTA semi-final, while it was the first for the 21-year-old Volynets.
Gracheva, who has never advanced past the 3rd-round at a Grand Slam tournament, has won 3 of her 4 matches this week in 3 sets, and only made it as far as the semi-finals at a WTA event just once before.
In the first set, Gracheva managed to prevail after a total of 7 breaks, the American only winning 39% of her first serve, which helped the Russian apply pressure to every service game.
In the second, Volynets was ahead 5-4, serving to tie the match, but Gracheva managed to get a break to level before the American broke again to finally pocket the set.
There were 7 breaks of serve in each of the first 2 sets as neither was able to really assert control over the other.
Volynets opened up the first lead in the decider with a break in the 5th game, but she was unable to hold in her final 2 service games to hand the win to Gracheva as the Russian did not lose another game after falling behind 4-2.
There were 17 total breaks in the match, with the Russian closing it out on a break to win it.
“I knew that if I lose the serve [at 4-2], I would barely have a chance to come back because she was pressing me a lot,” Gracheva said. “She played a really amazing match.
“I had gone a lot into emotion. If I had stayed there, Katie has such a beautiful game, and when you are down mentally, it is impossible.”
Trailing 4-3, Gracheva took advantage of a timely net cord to earn and then converted a break point to level the set.
“Sometimes one point can turn things around,” Volynets said. “Suddenly it was 30-40. That was a crucial point and it didn’t go my way.
“I don’t think that’s why I lost the match. I think she was doing great things. But it is mentally difficult when something like that happens in such a close moment.”
Following the crucial break, Gracheva easily held serve to take a 5-4 lead, and then closed out the match by breaking Volynets for a 9th time over the 3 sets.
Volynets, who shot into the Top 100 following her Australian Open 3rd-round result, entered this week at a career high of 92, and is projected to be ranked No 75 following her semi-final showing here.
“Overall, it’s been a really positive week,” Volynets said. “I reached my first semi-final and I got some great matches in.
“My coach and I put some great work in. It’s not easy to handle the losses, but I try to take the positives because I have such a beautiful tournament to play next week. I’m excited to play again.”
Gracheva has jumped over 20 spots in the rankings with her run this week, and could reach a career high of 56 with the title. She has won 7 career ITF titles, including 5 during the 2019 season.
Sunday’s final will be the third meeting between Kostyuk and Gracheva, who have split their previous encounters, with their last meeting coming in the quarter-finals at Chicago in 2021, which the Russian won in 3 sets, while the Ukrainian posted her win in the 3rd-round of the 2021 French Open.
Gracheva, who has spent nearly 9 hours in winning her 4 matches, said she feels fresh and ready to go for Sunday’s final, while Kostyuk has needed almost two-and-a-half fewer hours on-court to reach the final.
“Actually, I’m fresh,” Gracheva said. “I’m doing really good. Those wins, even in the quarters against Sloane [Stephens] — it was tight and physical even though it was two sets. This is our job.”
This will be the first WTA tournament in which both finalists are contesting their first career final since Martina Trevisan defeated Claire Liu in Rabat, Morrocco, last May.