Niculescu's First Final, Azarenka Awaits
Published October 22, 2011 12:00
LUXEMBOURG, Luxembourg - Monica Niculescu and Anne Keothavong went toe to toe for over three hours in the hopes of reaching their first WTA final, but in the end obviously only one could advance - and it was Niculescu.
Both players had been to WTA semifinals plenty of times before but neither had ever converted on the opportunity - the 24-year-old Niculescu was 0-3, the 28-year-old Keothavong 0-6 - but in the end the younger player had just that little bit more gas left in the tank, winning 12 of 13 points from 3-all in the third set to close out a three-hour, two-minute marathon on Centre Court, 75 46 63.
"I was really dead but I used all my powers to stay out there and play one more point," Niculescu said. "It was an unbelievable match. The crowd was behind me and there were so many Romanians behind me. It was an unbelievable feeling. I've had a great year and I'm so happy I'm in the final in Luxembourg."
Niculescu's last outing on the WTA led to the biggest result of her career, the semifinals of the Premier-level stop in Beijing. Along the way there she scored her first Top 10 win over Li Na. Now she is in her first career WTA final.
Keothavong fell to 0-7 in her career in WTA semifinals - but she is the only Brit in the last 19 years to reach even a single WTA semifinal, let alone seven.
"I'm obviously gutted I couldn't make the final today," Keothavong commented afterwards. "Monica's unique in her own way. You never know what's coming next, which is why she's so difficult to play. With all of the slices and moonballs you really have to choose the right moments to be aggressive - sometimes I did and sometimes I didn't. It's tough to lose this match but what can I do?"
Following Niculescu into the final was No.1 seed Victoria Azarenka, who had a simpler 63 63 win over No.6 seed Julia Goerges, losing her serve once in each set but breaking a total of five times en route to the comfortable victory.
"It was a long wait today - the girls before played really long!" Azarenka said. "I knew Julia would give me a tough battle and there were a lot of close games. I'm glad I was focused during the important moments and was able to win."
"It wasn't too bad, but Vika was too solid for me today," Goerges said. "My energy wasn't good for the whole match. It was always four good games, then two not so good games... she's too consistent for that, she's a top player. You have to be more consistent. That's why I lost three and three."
While Niculescu will be in her first WTA final, Azarenka will be in her 15th - she is an even 7-7 in the first 14. This is her first final since Madrid in May.
"I played her in juniors and a couple of times on the WTA. She's a very tricky player," Azarenka said of Niculescu. "She's a very big fighter and I know it will be tough, but I'm really looking forward to the challenge tomorrow."
"I hope I can recover," Niculescu said. "It has been a heck of a week. I've played so many hours on the court, so much tennis. I hope I can do a good final."