BRISBANE, Australia - Few would have guessed the final of the Premier-level Brisbane International would pit No.24 against No.34, especially given there were eight Top 20 players in the field - including four former No.1s. But that is exactly what has happened, as Daniela Hantuchova and Kaia Kanepi kept their good weeks going on Friday night with a pair of semifinal victories.
Hantuchova, ranked No.24, was the first to move into the final. Having been 0-9 against Kim Clijsters she was a big underdog in their match, but with a little help from the Belgian's left hip injury she was able to make it 10th time lucky, moving through with a 67(4) 31 retirement win. Hantuchova had all kinds of leads in the first set - 4-1, 5-3, 6-5 - but was unable to close it out; after taking an early 3-1 lead in the second set, her No.5-seeded opponent had to stop.
"I felt my left hip getting tighter and tighter, to the point I couldn't go forward with my upper body or put pressure on it when I was landing on my serve," Clijsters said of her injury. "I think it was the smartest choice to stop and not let it get any worse. I'm going to go to the hospital tomorrow for some more tests, but this one should take little over a week to heal. I have a good feeling."
"Kim isn't the kind of player who would ask for a timeout unless she really had to, so obviously there was a good reason to," Hantuchova said. "I was so focused on my game I didn't realize what was happening until she came to the net. I'm not sure what the injury is, but before a Grand Slam you don't want to risk anything - I hope she'll be fine and ready to play in Melbourne."
Even late in the first set when Clijsters came back, Hantuchova looked in solid form. "I came to Australia almost two weeks early, preparing for the Australian season in Noosa. I can't believe I didn't do it earlier - it only took me 12 years to realize how good it would be for me," she joked. "I'm really enjoying my tennis at the moment. Even after I lost the first set, I felt if I could keep playing this way I could still win the match. And I started well in the second set."
Following upsets over No.7 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and No.2 seed Andrea Petkovic, Kanepi - ranked No.34 in the world - continued her string of upsets with a commanding 63 60 win over the No.3 seed, Francesca Schiavone. She won eight straight games from 4-3 up in the first set and was particularly lethal on serve, winning 28 of 32 points on her delivery in the match.
"I had some problems with my serve yesterday, so we focused on making it better today. It was working," Kanepi said. "In previous years I've been a surprise player - I was able to beat higher ranked players, but then maybe lose to lower ranked players. Now I'm playing more stable, not making as many errors, and beating top players more consistently. Hopefully I can get that ranking myself one day. I'm just not trying for a winner on every shot."
Both Hantuchova and Kanepi have struggled in WTA finals before, Hantuchova going 4-8 and Kanepi 1-3. One stat that does separate them though is their head-to-head - Hantuchova has won all three of their career meetings.
"I have to play my own game - be aggressive, be patient, serve well - I have to do everything well," Kanepi said of the final. "At the beginning of the year everyone is trying to find their game, and whoever finds it faster goes far."
"I've got nothing to lose. I'm in the finals," Hantuchova commented. "I'm really enjoying my time here in Queensland, I've already had so many great weeks here, so no matter what, I will have great memories to take with me."