ISTANBUL, Turkey - Unseeded Pauline Parmentier has emphatically turned around what had been a barren 2018 at the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup, making her first WTA final in a decade by taking out No.7 seed Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3, 6-4.
Coming into the tournament, the Frenchwoman's win-loss record this year had been an alarming 2-15, and a mere 1-6 in WTA main draws. However, pushing two Top 20 players - Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys - to tight losses in last weekend's Fed Cup play seemed to have been a tonic to Parmentier.
In yesterday's quarterfinals, she scored her maiden Top 10 win in 16 attempts when No.1 seed Caroline Wozniacki retired at a set all - and now, the 32-year-old has backed that up by defeating the last remaining seed in Istanbul, an opponent against whom she was 0-3 since 2011, to make her first final since winning Bad Gastein in 2008.
In the intervening decade, Parmentier had made just three semifinals - Strasbourg 2012, Katowice 2016 and Luxembourg 2017 - but throughout today's match it was the World No.122's composure and relative stability that were crucial.
A nervy opening act saw the match begin with four consecutive breaks of serve; there would be six in total of the first set's nine games. The more powerful Romanian would struggle to rein her pace in throughout the match, and the netted backhand with which she conceded the opening game would be a recurring mistake.
Though Parmentier also had issues with her game, coughing up a double fault in each of her first two service games - the second down break point - she was also keeping a much tighter ship in terms of errors, shedding only four in the first set compared to Begu's eight.
Using the World No.38's power against her, Parmentier's counterpunching game was on point as she spread the ball from line to line. Neither was she afraid to go for the margins herself, with her inside-out forehand doing particular damage - including an emphatic winner to seal a scrappy set.
There were the seeds of a comeback early in the second set when Parmentier double faulted once again down break point in the first game - but Begu was still unable to take advantage, leaking a series of forehand errors to give the break back.
The 27-year-old's errors continued to mount, particularly on big points that might have potentially enabled her to turn the flow of the match: an ill-advised and poorly executed dropshot spurned a break point in the fifth game, and the final game was a break of the Begu serve to love courtesy of a forehand shank and two routine groundstrokes over the baseline.
Parmentier, though, kept the pressure on and refused to blink. In such a scrappy, momentum-free match, neither her lead nor her serve could be taken for granted - but the French Fed Cup stalwart navigated every dangerous moment with a cool head.
Another break point in the fifth game was saved with a brilliant backhand down the line, and she would convert six of her 11 break point opportunities. In the crucial final game, Parmentier kicked it off with a fine cross-court chase and neat pass.
Tomorrow's all-unseeded final against Polona Hercog will pit a pair of two-time titlists who have long been absent from finals against each other, with the Slovenian's last final having been in Bastad in 2012.
Parmentier, notably, has never lost a WTA final; as well as her Bad Gastein crown in 2008, she also defeated Victoria Azarenka to capture Tashkent the previous year.