TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Belinda Bencic extended her WTA 125K tournament winning streak to nine straight wins with a 6-2, 6-4 semifinal victory over compatriot Viktorija Golubic at the Taipei OEC Open on Saturday.
The Swiss Bencic, coming off her title run at the EA Hua Hin Championship last week, claimed her second consecutive victory over a countrywoman after defeating Jil Teichmann in the previous round. It was her second win in two tries over Golubic, after a tight 7-6, 7-6 tilt last year at the Ricoh Open.
Bencic will play one of her Dutch neighbors in Sunday's championship match, as Arantxa Rus advanced to her maiden final at this level with a hard-fought victory over Great Britain's Naomi Broady in the first semifinal, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
The incredible winning streak by Bencic has put her within striking distance of the Top 100 after an injury-plagued rebuilding year which kept her off the court from April until September. But her highly praised backhand was in fine form on Saturday, and she won nearly 80 percent of points on her first serve, greatly outpacing her opponent in that metric.
After a couple of easy holds, Bencic found herself in trouble while serving at 2-2. Golubic, who defeated No.1 seed Aryna Sabalenka earlier in the tournament, had zeroed in on Bencic's second serve and was hitting fantastic returns. But Bencic muddled through that game, and then started to pull away.
Multiple forehand winners gave Bencic triple break point for 4-2, and she converted the break with another forehand winner down the line. Golubic became flustered, and dropped her next service game as well, handing the final four games of the set to the former World No.7.
Things became more complicated for Bencic in the second set, although, at the outset, it appeared that she was headed for a very brisk win. A wonderful crosscourt backhand gave Bencic a break point for 4-2, and when Golubic double faulted on the next point, it appeared that victory was imminent for the 20-year-old.
Suddenly, unforced errors crept into the game of Bencic, and Golubic took advantage to break serve for the first time in the match and pull to 4-3. Golubic struggled through her next service game, but held for 4-4, and Bencic was visibly annoyed that she had not closed out the match, lightly tossing her racquet numerous times in disappointment.
Bencic then fell down 0-30 in the next game, and a third set seemed much closer than previously anticipated. But Bencic regrouped with strong play at the net, and held on. Golubic looked disheartened, and after stellar scrambling by Bencic caused an error to set up match point, Golubic double faulted to send Bencic into the final.
In the earlier semifinal, Rus overturned a head-to-head which was not her in her favor, Broady having won both of their earlier professional matches in quick straight sets, including at a Challenger event in Vancouver earlier this year.
Rus started to reverse that pattern early in the match, and won 83 percent of her first service points in the opener. She fended off two break points at 2-1 before capturing the first break of the match at 3-3 with a brilliant passing shot.
Broady was not overly deterred by this deficit, continuing her tactic of serving powerfully and coming forward as much as she could, but Rus was returning exceptionally well. The Dutchwoman pushed Broady into more errors in her next service game, which quickly gave her the first set.
Broady’s persistence with her game plan paid off in the second set. After an early exchange of breaks, the Brit reclaimed a pivotal break lead for a 4-3 advantage. More strong serving and forehand winners by Broady led her to a love hold for 5-3, and she clinched the set with another big serve in her next service game.
But Rus would not be denied her first win in their rivalry, and amped up the pace on her groundstrokes from both wings in the decider. After Broady held easily in her first two service games, Broady blinked at 2-3, as a passing shot whizzed beyond her in the first point of the game, and Rus crushed a backhand down the line on break point to take the lead.
By then, the left-hander from the Netherlands was serving beautifully, curling shots into the box which Broady struggled to put back into the court. The Brit punched a lovely volley to hold for 5-3, but Rus needed only one match point in the next game to get her first win over Broady and advance to the biggest final of her career.