TAIPEI CITY, Chinese Taipei -- No.4 seed Timea Babos of Hungary and Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine each won their semifinals in straight sets on Saturday to advance to the championship match of the Taiwan Open.
Babos, the reigning Australian Open women's doubles champion, claimed her first win in three matches against Wang Yafan of China, prevailing 6-3, 6-4. Babos will now try to clinch her third WTA singles trophy, after championships at the Abierto GNP Seguros in Monterrey in 2012 and the Hungarian Ladies Open in Budapest last year.
"I’m really happy with my singles performance for today," Babos told the press afterwards. "It was definitely a tough match with Yafan, she’s a really good player, so I’m happy with the way I played, I’m happy with the way I managed the tough moments."
Kozlova eliminated 2013 Wimbledon runner-up Sabine Lisicki of Germany, collecting a 7-5, 6-4 victory to advance to the first WTA singles final of her career. "It’s my first final, and of course at the end I was a little bit nervous, especially on match point," Kozlova exclaimed to the press after the match.
"It was a very tough match, because Sabine was playing very aggressive," Kozlova continued. "You cannot really do many things, because she’s hitting really hard from the baseline, and serving heavy. It was of course difficult and tough to manage her serve speed, but somehow I did it," she said with a laugh.
Babos took both tight sets behind 24 winners, including seven aces, and was successful on both of her break point opportunities. The Hungarian also won far more points on her second serve than Wang -- 54 percent to 38 percent, respectively.
The initial stretch of the first set between Babos and Wang proved to be pivotal. Babos had to fend off two break points in a nine-minute, five-deuce opening game before holding for 1-0. Right after that, Wang blinked, and was broken at love for 2-0, after a double fault down break point.
That would prove to be the only break of the opening set, as Babos rode a 10-point streak to claim a 3-0 lead, and used her powerful service to hold serve at love three consecutive times, advancing to 5-2.
Wang deployed her penetrating backhand to push Babos to deuce at 5-3, but a backhand winner down the line brought up the Hungarian's first set point, and a long service return by Wang gave Babos a tight first set.
The second set of the match was nearly a carbon copy of the first. After Wang held for 1-0, Babos had to survive another grueling opening service game. The fourth seed repelled four break points before holding for 1-1 after nine deuces and 14 minutes, which led to the Hungarian raising her arms in triumph.
Babos saved two more break points before holding for 2-2, and Wang's inability to break the Babos serve finally caught up to her, as Babos broke the Chinese player for a 3-2 lead in the second set. Wang had a staggering eight break points in the match, but did not convert a single one.
Once more, Babos only needed to break one time in the set. At 5-3, Wang held at love to force Babos to serve out the match, but Wang gave Babos a gift in the final game when an unforced error off a slice backhand set up match point for the Hungarian. A brilliant forehand passing shot by Babos gave her the win in an hour and a half.
"We had some very long games, a lot of break points, a lot of tough moments," said Babos. "But I won all of the tough moments, so it just showed that I always made the right decisions, and I’m happy for that."
Very little separated Kozlova and Lisicki during their match. Kozlova had 18 winners to only 13 unforced errors in the match. Lisicki, meanwhile, had 32 winners, but those were almost all completely negated by 31 unforced errors, and those, as well as 6 double faults, often came at inopportune times, allowing Kozlova to eke out both sets.
Lisicki held serve relatively easily in the first game of the match, behind a clutch of forehand winners. After that, four consecutive breaks of service in a row occurred, as the combatants were being aggressive on return, which paid dividends for both.
Kozlova held at love for 3-3, stopping the string of breaks, and then claimed a break lead for the first time at 5-4, after Lisicki punched a forehand into the net while down break point. But Kozlova could not serve out the set, as the German reached triple break point via three huge service returns, and broke for 5-5 with a forehand crosscourt winner.
The 5-5 game proved to be decisive in the first set, as Lisicki lost two game points with unforced errors into the net, and was broken after a backhand went long down break point.
Serving for the set for a second time, Kozlova again had to face a break point, but Lisicki hit another unforced error to send the game to deuce. Two points later, one more Lisicki forehand into the net gave the Ukrainian a one-set lead.
Following an exchange of breaks in the first two games of the second set, Lisicki claimed an advantage late in the set, holding at love for 3-2 after a game in which she served three aces, and then breaking Kozlova for a 4-2 lead with a daring reflex backhand volley off of an overhead by the Ukrainian.
But that hot streak would prove to be Lisicki’s last hurrah, as she served two double faults in the next game en route to being broken back for 4-3, and then dropped her serve again at 4-4, double faulting down break point.
Serving for the match for the first time, Kozlova fell behind 0-30, but she regrouped, hitting two groundstroke winners to pull back to 30-30. A backhand error by Lisicki gave Kozlova match point, and the Ukrainian hit an ace to finish off her four-game run to seal the match and advance to her first WTA singles final.
“The key was in the second set, I started to serve much better, more first serves," Kozlova explained to the press. "She was attacking my second serve. That was my big problem in the beginning, so I changed it.”