ISTANBUL, Turkey - Cagla Buyukakcay delighted the Turkish fans at the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup, roaring out to a big lead and treating the crowd to a tense ending with a 6-0, 7-5 victory over Stefanie Voegele.
Buyukakcay turned heads earlier in the year with a run to the third round of the Qatar Total Open - upsetting Lucie Safarova en route - but has been even more impressive at home in Istanbul, running through four matches without losing a set to become the first Turkish woman to reach a WTA singles final.
"I was very nervous in the beginning," she admitted after the match. "I was trying to focus on the point all the time; it was hard not to think about the future in the second, when I was 6-0, 2-0 up."
Completely in charge through the opening eight games, Voegele - a former Volvo Car Open semifinalist in 2013 - found her way back to level in the second set, getting within one game of tying things up in the tenth game.
"I knew my opponent could come back at any time, but it's normal that I lost a little bit of concentration. It's tough to finish a match and I was starting to feel really tight, but also I was making some unforced errors. But I would be brave again and I'd tell myself, 'Play your best and try. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work.' It's better to say this than ask, 'Why didn't I go for it?' after the match.
"That's why I was positive when I was 5-4 down, I was like, 'Play your game, play aggressively like you did before.' That worked well for me."
Maintaining an incredibly high first serve percentage, Buyukakcay only missed three first serves through the one hour and 23 minute match, winning 63% of her first serve points and converting six of 11 break point chances on return.
"I hadn't noticed, but I was told I was serving over 90%; that must have happened for the first time in my career!"
The top-ranked Turkish star was already the first from her country to reach a WTA semifinal, and Saturday's victory allowed her to go one better, and assure herself of a Top 100 debut.
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"It was very important for me to break the Top 100 this match; that's why I was very emotional at the end. I've been working for it for the first time, and I'll be the first woman in Turkish tennis to be Top 100. It's a huge thing for me.
"I saw the Turkish flags around me, and I'm reminding myself all the time that it's perfect to be here, and it's working."
Hoping to inspire other young women from her home country, Buyukakcay discussed her active role as President of the Athlete's Commission through the Turkish Olympic Committee.
"I'm very happy about it because we have to encourage kids to be involved with sports. My role is to help them for their Olympic dreams and to have a good bridge between the athletes and the Olympic Committee, and what we can do together in the future.
"It's an important role for me to be a good athlete, because when I was young I didn't have any role models in tennis. That's why my dreams were very far for me; I didn't have anyone to look up to. But because of me, they can dream that they also can reach a WTA final. We could never dream about it before in Turkish tennis."
Standing between the hometown favorite and a maiden WTA title will be Danka Kovinic, who overcame a topsy-turvy second semifinal to see past Katreryna Kozlova, 7-5, 6-4. In doubles, Buyukakcay's compatriot Ipek Soylu continued the banner week for Turkish tennis as she and partner Andreea Mitu reached the final when Nao Hibino's right shoulder injury forced she and Kurumi Nara to withdraw from the semifinals.
Kovinic is also in the doubles final, having won her semifinal with fellow No.3 seed Xenia Knoll on Friday, and withstood a spirited challenge from Kozlova to reach the singles final on Saturday.
"The conditions are completely different on this court than on Court 1," she said after the match. "It´s a bit faster but I like it more because there is no wind.
"I am really happy that I finished in two sets. It has been a tough week for me coming from Fed Cup but I am really happy with my result here because I am a step closer to making it for Rio, to play for my country. I hope that tomorrow is a good match. I know Cagla very well. We are close friends and we played in Charleston a few weeks ago.
"I expect a crazy crowd tomorrow, but I like it when the stadium is full even if they are against me and I like that people come to watch and to support us."