SYDNEY, Australia - Competing in the eighth WTA semifinal of her career on Thursday, Bulgarian qualifier Tsvetana Pironkova upset second-seeded Petra Kvitova to secure entry into her first WTA final at the Apia International Sydney.
From 4-4 in the first set, Pironkova won six of the next seven games to take a 64 41 lead. Kvitova then staged a mini-rally, but serving at 4-3, 15-40, Pironkova reeled off eight straight points to clinch the 64 63 triumph.
"Of course I got nervous at the end, but I was trying to cope with it," Pironkova said. "I feel incredibly happy right now. At the same time, I'm trying to stay grounded and focused for the next match, which is obviously the most important match of the week. So I can't wait."
Pironkova's first victory in four encounters with World No.6 Kvitova made her the first qualifier to make the Sydney final in the event's history.
"It's definitely a milestone," Pironkova said. "This is something I've been dreaming about for a long time now and something that I've been missing - to get to a final or even win a title. So you can only imagine how I will feel tomorrow on the court. We'll see what happens."
The 10th Top 10 win of Pironkova's career came a day after her ninth in Wednesday's quarterfinals against World No.7 Sara Errani. Her Top 10 wins before this week came at the 2006 Australian Open (No.10 Venus Williams), 2008 Rome (No.3 Ana Ivanovic), 2009 Moscow (No.7 Vera Zvonareva), 2010 Warsaw (No.5 Elena Dementieva), 2010 Wimbledon (No.2 Venus Williams), 2011 Wimbledon (No.3 Vera Zvonareva), 2012 Paris [Indoors] (No.9 Li Na) and 2012 Eastbourne (No.3 Agnieszka Radwanska).
"She moved well on the court and was very consistent," Kvitova said. "It was tough for me to hit winners because she moved so well. She also served well and returned my serve pretty well."
A semifinalist 12 months ago, Kerber is yet to drop a set this week and this record never looked under any serious threat from Keys.
The decisive moment in the opening set came at 4-4, when Keys sent a backhand sailing long to surrender her serve, and from that point on it was one-way traffic with two breaks at the start of the second sending Kerber on her way to a 64 62 victory.
"I was just trying to focus on my game plan - trying to play point by point in the important moments - and it worked in the end," Kerber said. "She's a talented player, and I knew this before the match because I had a tough match last year at Melbourne against her.
"She served very well today, but I think I had a great returning match, which I think that was also a key."
And despite sitting almost 100 places above Pironkova in the rankings, Kerber knows she can ill afford to take her foot off the accelerator against her fellow finalist, whom she's 1-1 against.
"I know it will be a tough match tomorrow," Kerber added. "She's played very well the whole week and, yeah, for sure I need to be ready from the very first point and play good tennis to beat her.
"I will try to enjoy the final tomorrow and to play a good match."