American teenager Coco Gauff reached her first clay-court tournament final by beating Czech Katerina Siniakova, 7-5 1-6 6-2, at the inaugural Emilia-Romagna Open in Parma, Italy, on Friday, where she will face China’s 48th-ranked Wang Qiang, who defeated former US Open champion Sloane Stephens, 6-2 7-6(3) after rallying from 5-1 down in the second set.
It definitely gives me more experience, just the fact that I’ve been in a final before, so I know how the nerves feel, and I know how to handle it a little bit better. Tomorrow, I’m just going to go out there and have fun. Coco Gauff
Gauff’s victory propelled the 17-year-old to her 2nd career WTA final just a week after she reached her first semi-final on clay at the Italian Open, during which she beat Australia’s World No 1 Ash Barty, who retired with injury.
It was a battle to get past Siniakova, who had taken out top seed Serena Williams on Tuesday and Caroline Garcia on Wednesday, that took 2 hour 8 minutes.
“[Siniakova is] a super tricky player, she obviously had some great wins this week,” Gauff said. “To be honest, I just kind of hung in there, and although in the second set my level went down a little bit, I was glad that I was able to pick it up for the third.”
Siniakova was the first player to take a set off Gauff this week, after she dispatched her first 3 opponents in straight sets, highlighted by an impressive 6-3 6-3 win over fellow American Amanda Anisimova.
She had a breakout tournament in Rome, where she scored her first two top-10 wins on clay, over Madrid champion Aryna Sabalenka and Barty, and her run to the final here is all the more impressive as she has also reached the doubles final with partner Caty McNally.
Most of the first set in the semi-final went with serve, but it was 68th-ranked Siniakova, using her all-court instincts to come up with the best shots, who piled pressure on Gauff and eventually broke for 5-4 with a forehand winner.
Gauff immediately responded, finding a series of thrilling winners to snatch the last 3 games of the set from the Czech’s grasp.
Siniakova, 25, wasted no time in wresting the momentum back in the second, breaking Gauff in the opening game and dominating from there by using her skills around the forecourt skills to skilfully out-manoeuvre the American teenager.
Siniakova had 2 chances to break for a 2-0 in the decider but Gauff, with her back to the wall, responded in in style with clean winners to fight off both and hold.
It proved the turning point from which she was able to regain the momentum and, having struggled with her timing and coughing up 10 double-faults in the second set, the American was suddenly watertight again.
She dominated the third set, with Siniakova unable to find answers, and closed out her first match point with a simple one-two punch.
Gauff is now aiming for her second career title, having won her only previous final in Lienz, Austria, in 2019.
“It definitely gives me more experience, just the fact that I’ve been in a final before, so I know how the nerves feel, and I know how to handle it a little bit better,” Gauff told the press, after her win. “Tomorrow, I’m just going to go out there and have fun.”
Following her successful week in Parma, Gauff will reach a new career-high in the WTA ranking on Monday. If she loses in the final, she will be ranked 26th, but if she wins the title, she will be ranked 25.
Qiang Wang, the No 6 seed, came from 1-5 down in the second set and saved 3 set points against Sloane Stephens for her 6-2 7-6(3) win in 1 hour 46 minutes.
The Chinese has struggled this year, compiling a 4-11 record ahead of this week, but she has now reached her first final since the 2018 WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, and her first outside her home country.
She also ensured that it would not be an all-American WTA final on clay, of which there have only be 4 this century, the last being Serena Williams’s defeat of Madison Keys at Rome 2016.
Wang produced a solid performance on Friday, striking 20 winners to 26 unforced errors.
The Chinese had dismissed Stephens twice in straight sets previously, in 2016 and 2017, and the pattern continued in a one-sided first set in which the American failed to find any way to disrupt Wang’s rhythm.
Generating more acceleration on her groundstrokes, Stephens hit back to lead 5-1 in the second set, finally forcing errors from Wang, but she was unable to close it out despite a series of marathon tussles.
Wang captured 3 multi-deuce games, saving set points at 1-5, 2-5, and 4-5, to level at 5-5.
With Stephens now missing both short balls and rally balls as a matter of course to tally 41 unforced errors, Wang simply had to remain solid to take the ensuing tiebreak and the 29-year-old finished in style, finding a 2nd ace on her 3rd match point.
The final will be a first meeting between Wang and Gauff, while it is also a first for both on clay a week ahead of the French Open at Roland Garros.
Against the 6th-seeded Wang, Gauff will have her work cut out for her as the Chinese, who scored a tight win over #2 seed Petra Martic, presents a different kind of challenge for her.