BASTAD, Sweden - Polona Hercog continued her season revival at the Sony Swedish Open on Saturday, upsetting Mona Barthel to reach the final at the International event. Mathilde Johansson stands between her and the title.
Hercog, who won her first and so far only WTA title here last year, came into this year's event having not won a match in two and a half months, falling first round at four tournaments in a row and withdrawing from a slew of others with a back injury. In that time she fell from No.36 all the way down to No.86.
Unseeded this week, she has snapped out of the losing streak with four straight wins, including upsets over No.2 seed Julia Goerges in the second round and, now, No.7 seed Barthel in the semifinals. She rallied from a break down early in the second set to beat Barthel in just 60 minutes on a windy Saturday, 61 63.
"Mona's a rhythm player, hitting flat from both sides, so I had to mix up the rhythm and try to stay focused on every point," Hercog said. "The conditions were difficult with the wind today, but I fought hard and it all came together. I'm feeling more and more confident with every match, so I'm very happy.
"It's amazing - this is the only tournament I'm doing really great results at, two years in a row now. They really make you feel at home here. I think that's why I'm doing so well - you feel good, so everything comes together."
And on the rebound from the previous 10 weeks? "In a way I'm surprised this is happening so fast, because I'm coming back from a very serious injury," the Slovenian said. "I'm just happy to be back on court playing my tennis."
The other semifinal was an all-unseeded affair between Sweden's Johanna Larsson and Swedish-born Frenchwoman Mathilde Johansson, and it was Johansson who made the cut, getting broken in the opening game of both sets but regrouping each time, battling for an hour and 50 minutes to win, 64 64.
"The courts are great, but when the winds are on it's tough," Johansson said. "My forehand is getting better but my backhand always saves me."
"Bastad has a surface that suits me well, so if there's a title for me to win it's here," said Larsson, who was a finalist here a year ago. "I had my goal set on reaching the final, so I'm obviously disappointed after losing right now."
Johansson, who was born in Goteborg, Sweden, addressed the crowd in Swedish afterwards. "The spectators know I speak Swedish now so they might cheer for me in the final!" she said. "It has been really fun here. I had never played in Sweden before and now hopefully they know I'm a little Swedish too."
Hercog is 1-2 in WTA finals, winning here last year and reaching two other clay court finals, at Acapulco in 2010 (losing to Venus Williams) and Palermo in 2011 (losing to Anabel Medina Garrigues). Johansson is 0-1 in WTA finals, her first on clay at Bogotá in 2011 (losing to Lourdes Domínguez Lino).
Johansson beat Hercog in their only previous meeting, and it was on clay courts, though it was at an ITF Women's Clay Court tournament four years ago.
"Mathilde is a great player and very experienced," Hercog said. "She hits very strong from both sides, so I'll just focus on me a little more, work those legs and just go for every shot and not be afraid. I'm looking forward to the final - hopefully a lot of people come to watch. I hope I can show my best tennis again."