LUXEMBOURG, Luxembourg - In what could be the most feel-good final four of the year on the WTA, four players who have all overcome some difficult times this year - and missed months of action - have made it to the semifinals of the International-level BGL BNP Paribas Luxembourg Open in Luxembourg.
The first player through to the semifinals was Daniela Hantuchova, who came alive from 1-4 in the first set against Lourdes Domínguez Lino, winning 12 of the next 13 games for a runaway 75 60 victory against the Spaniard.
"I was rushing, so I just had to calm down," Hantuchova said. "Our last match in Fed Cup I think we played three hours, so I expected a tough match today, and it was. Even though the second set was 6-0, I really had to fight for it."
Hantuchova, who missed the entire clay court season this year - including the French Open - with a foot injury, is playing her first WTA semifinal since winning the fifth WTA title of her career at Pattaya City in February.
The second player to reach the semifinals was Monica Niculescu, who won the first eight games of her match against Lucie Hradecka and eventually closed out the battle of players who hit with two hands off both sides, 60 64.
Niculescu, who suffered a left hand injury in the summer and missed two months of play - including the Olympics - is through to her first WTA semifinal since reaching her very first WTA final right here in Luxembourg last year.
"I was out of the game for months because of a stress fracture in my hand, so I'm really just happy to be playing right now," Niculescu said. "I'm happy to be playing well again and to defend the semifinals here - it's not easy!"
Andrea Petkovic was the third player into the final four, continuing to show the back and ankle injuries that kept her out for most of the first seven months of the year are well and truly behind her, grinding past Ksenia Pervak, 63 62.
"At 2-3 in the first set I knew I needed to step up my intensity - just a little, maybe 10% - but I thought that was key to turning the match around," Petkovic said. "It was incredibly intense. Even though the first set was 6-3, it could easily have gone to 5-all. I think I was just a little bit luckier in the key moments."
Rounding out the final four was none other than Venus Williams, who started her season in mid-March after a seven month lay-off due to illness - missing, among other tournaments, the Australian Open. But she has looked sharp all week in Luxembourg, and on Friday took out the last seed standing, No.1 seed Roberta Vinci, in a tight two-setter in the night match, 76(2) 64.
"It was definitely well-contested today - every time I had a break, she would play unbelievable against my serve in the next game," Williams said. "We fought for every point. We ran so much. And it's great to come out on top against a player who has had such a great year, not only in singles but also in doubles."
This is Williams' second WTA semifinal since coming back to action, having also made the final four in Cincinnati - and she doesn't want to stop here.
"It's one match at a time, and every match is challenging," she said. "Everyone wants to end the year in a positive way - so do I - so I'll try to get to the final."
Saturday's semifinals will see Hantuchova play Niculescu for the first time and Williams and Petkovic play for the third time (they are tied, 1-1).