Barbora Krejcikova, the No 3 seed, pulled off an epic semi-final win after saving 7 match points against Anett Kontaveit, 0-6 6-4 7-6(12), and will play Paula Badosa in Saturday’s final, who had an easier time of it, dispatching Daria Kasatkina, 6-2 6-2.
When I had those match points down, I was just trying to figure out how to build up the point and how to win the point, and that was everything that I was focusing on. I had to change my game style a little bit more [to turn the match around] ... to start playing aggressive the point from my side. Otherwise she was just killing me. Barbora Krejcikova
“I think from both sides it was a really, really tough match,” Krejcikova said, in her post-match press conference. “I think we played wonderful tennis.
“It was very, very tight, and I’m really happy that I was able to hold the nerves better, and that I won this match.
“I was expecting it was going to be really difficult, and I know that Anett, she is playing really great tennis and she’s very aggressive.
“I was just playing, just trying to fight for every single ball.”
The reigning Roland Garros singles and doubles champion from the Czech Republic recovered after a first-set bagel at the hands of the World No 4, who ruthlessly blitzed her higher-ranked opponent to take the first set in just 28 minutes.
Krejcikova, ranked just one place above the Estonian, upped her aggression to snag the second set before edging Kontaveit in a thrilling deciding set tiebreak.
“I just planned to fight more, and just try to stay in the match, and I felt that at some point I’m going to get my chances, and it’s important to convert them,'” Krejcikova told the Nine Network.
“She was playing really aggressive and with my game, with playing more consistent, it just wasn’t working, so I had to find a plan B, and I’m really happy that I found a plan B, and then, I think, it was a wonderful match.”
The bruising battle saw Krejcikova stave off a whopping 7 match points before finally converting her 5th match point after 2 hours and 30 minutes of toe-to-toe tennis, and move the Czech into her 6th WTA singles final.
Both made their debuts at the season-ending WTA Finals in November, and had their only previous meeting in Guadalajara, where Kontaveit prevailed in straight sets en route to the final, capping a season in which won 28 of her last 32 matches.
Kontaveit had to save 3 break points in the very first game of the match, but once out of that jam, the Estonian cruised through the opening set, bagelling Krejcikova after only 29 minutes
Despite being steamrolled in the opener, Krejcikova turned the tables, preventing Kontaveit from reaching her 4th final in a row.
The Czech settled in the second and, at 4-4, she made the critical break on the Estonian’s serve before comfortably holding serve to get back on a level footing.
In the third set, Krejcikova grabbed the first break to lead 2-1, but Kontaveit struck back immediately for 2-2, and the fight was on.
Kontaveit earned her first 3 match points on Krejcikova’s serve at 6-5, but the Czech powerfully brushed each away to line up the decisive third-set tiebreak.
Krejcikova earned 2 match points at 6-4 in the cat-and-mouse breaker, but Kontaveit saved them both with brilliant backhands to level at 6-6.
The pair battled all the way to 12-12, at which juncture Kontaveit had lost out on 7 match points, and Krejcikova had failed to convert 4.
On the next point, Kontaveit fired a rally backhand wide to give Krejcikova a 13-12 lead and a 5th match point and Krejcikova claimed victory in a classic encounter after the Estonian’s forehand return sailed long.
“When I had those match points down, I was just trying to figure out how to build up the point and how to win the point, and that was everything that I was focusing on,” Krejcikova said.
“I had to change my game style a little bit more [to turn the match around] … to start playing aggressive the point from my side.
“Otherwise she was just killing me.”
In the night match, another 2021 WTA Finals debutante, Badosa also kept up her momentum from last autumn to reach her 3rd career final.
The Spanish World No 9, who lifted trophies in Belgrade and Indian Wells last year, faced a generational peer whom she had not played since their U16 days when the Russian had won in the 2013 European Junior Championships in Moscow en route to the title.
Eight years later, Badosa was able to take revenge with a near-flawless display of heavy-hitting that included 26 winners to her opponent’s 12.
She laid down a marker with a phenomenal start, winning 14 of the first 16 points and leaping out to a 4-0 lead.
Similarly, she was able to overwhelm Kasatkina at the start of the second set to move to 5-0.
The No 26-ranked Russian, competing in her second consecutive semi-final after reaching that stage at the Melbourne Summer Set 1 last week, played her best tennis at the tail end of each set.
A backhand winner saved a match point at 5-0 in the second while free-swinging forehands retrieved one break back in both sets, but the gulf was too much to make up, and Badosa’s level never dropped.
Coming up with some of her most bruising backhands to squash any potential comeback, Badosa broke Kasatkina to seal each set.
The Spaniard executed an ‘aggressive game plan perfectly’ to book her clash with Krejcikova, leading their head-to-head 2-0 courtesy of victories in 2021.
“It’s amazing to start the year like this, I’m really motivated for the Australian Open,” said Badosa, who had been absorbed in the earlier women’s semi-final between Krejcikova and Kontaveit. “It was impossible not to watch the match.
“They’re amazing players, it was an amazing performance. Tomorrow is going to be another tough one, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Badosa is 2-0 in WTA finals compared to Krejcikova’s 3-2 record.