MALLORCA, Spain - Experienced trumped youth in the first semifinal at the Mallorca Open on Saturday, as Germany's Tatjana Maria edged American teenager Sofia Kenin in three sets to reach the final, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4.
The pair split two meetings in 2017 on the ITF Circuit, but both players were in fairly uncharted waters at WTA level entering the encounter: Kenin was contesting her first WTA semifinal with Maria competing in her second, as each looked to make her first WTA singles final.
However, it was the 30-year-old German No.3 who held her nerve for one hour and 57 minutes to edge the 19-year-old qualifier and book a place in Sunday's final.
"I am very happy to reach my first WTA final. I could almost cry," Maria said after the match. "I think it's the grass, actually. I love to play on the grass. I was really prepared for this grass season to do something good, and I'm happy that I did it already."
Maria nearly saw a 4-1 lead in the final set slip away as the qualifier made a late push to get the set back on serve, before dropping her own for a second time to give the German a chance to serve for the match.
However, another spirited effort from Kenin again saw her break to stay alive, but the American was ultimately unable to completely level the action late in her sixth match of the week, and dropped serve for a third time in the decider after taking a medical timeout.
Over the course of the encounter overall, Maria's variety succussfully diffused Kenin's power game, as Kenin walloped 35 winners to 23 unforced errors, and served at 72% for the match.
For her effort, Maria served 10 aces and hit 23 winners to just 10 unfored errors of her own, converting on five of the seven break points she held.
In her first WTA final, Maria will face either No.3 seed and defending champion Anastasija Sevastova, or former US Open champion Samantha Stosur.
"First, I have to come down and enjoy, and then I'll try to get ready for tomorrow," she said. "I'll keep my energy and fight tomorrow again."