SINGAPORE - No.6 seed Caroline Wozniacki overcame No.3 seed Karolina Pliskova in two breathtakingly tight sets to make her way into the final of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global 7-6(9), 6-3 - and will make her first appearance in the championship match of the WTA Finals since 2010.
The tone of the first semifinal was set early on, with both players having to fend off break points in their opening two service games. In a measure of just how narrow the margins between the two former World No.1s were, 15 of the match's 21 games - and 10 of the first set's 12 - featured one or more break points; seven of the opening set's games went to deuce.
It was the Czech player who drew first blood, coming up with some brilliant forehand angles and even a delightful dropshot en route to moving ahead 4-2. But loose errors prevented the 25-year-old from building on her lead, and she was quickly broken to love when attempting to serve the set out.
An epic tenth game ushered in the most intense passage of play as Wozniacki withstood some sweetly struck Pliskova crosscourt backhands to come through six deuces, saving three set points en route - one with a service winner, two on Pliskova backhand errors - to draw level at 5-5.
Fittingly, with so little between the pair, the set would be decided by a tiebreak. Initially, it seemed anticlimactic: a suddenly error-strewn Pliskova dumped routine groundstrokes into the net and quickly fell behind 1-6. Remarkably, though, she gathered herself to reel off six consecutive points, including a brilliant reflex volley to save the fourth set point against her and culminating in a brace of aces to reach her own fourth set point.
As resilient as ever, though, Wozniacki rose to the occasion to save it with a booming backhand winner down the line. It was notable throughout the match how few of the points fit into the expected pattern of Wozniacki defending and Pliskova attacking: the match-up is one that showcases the pair's less-vaunted skills, such as Pliskova's hands when defending and Wozniacki's ability to open up the court with down-the-line strokes off both wings. It was an example of the latter that, on her sixth set point - having saved six against her - finally sealed the opening set for the Dane.
Afterwards, Wozniacki discussed how she had kept going through such a rollercoaster. "I got a good start in the tiebreaker, 6-1, and I was feeling pretty good about it," she recalled. "Then, you know, all of a sudden it's 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, and I said this isn't fun anymore. Let me just try and finish this off. At 6-All I was ready to just kill myself, basically.
"I started thinking I should have lost this set already, so actually this is just a bonus. So I had a lot of talks with myself at that point."
Though Pliskova started the second set positively by breaking immediately, a pair of tired-looking volleys into the net in the very next game indicated how much the marathon opening set had cost her. Afterwards, she admitted how important it had been: "I think it was about the first set overall," she told press. "I don't know how it would play if I would have won the first set, if it would have been that easy in the second, but I had so many chances." Wozniacki had a similar assessment, saying succinctly: "You know, I think that broke her a little bit."
Attempting to shorten the points still paid the occasional dividend for the former US Open runner-up - a complaint to her coach, Rennae Stubbs, that she was unable to hit winners on the slow court was swiftly followed by her 30th winner of the day en route to drawing level at 3-3.
But by now, Wozniacki was tightening her game up even more with the end in sight. A pair of magnificent passes, one off each wing, sealed a fifth break of the Pliskova serve for the 27-year-old, and there was to be no drama in serving it out as she finished with a flourish. A backhand crosscourt winner - her 25th of the day to just nine unforced errors - put Wozniacki into her second final at the WTA Finals, having previously been runner-up to Kim Clijsters in Doha in 2010.
Afterwards, she told the press that she was looking forward to the final. "I feel good," smiled Wozniacki. "I feel comfortable and confident, and, you know, regardless of who I play in the final, it's going to be a tough battle and it's going to be a tough match to win. But I'm excited to play and get another opportunity."
Pliskova, meanwhile, heads into the off season with mixed but overall positive feelings about her year. "Still everything a little bit improving," she judged her 2017 campaign. "Not with the big steps but with the small steps, which is good."
Nonetheless, there's room for improvement. "I think some matches I could play a little bit differently, a little bit more aggressive," stated the Czech. "Not really the one today, but there were some which I would play in a different way, maybe US Open or maybe the quarterfinal in Australian Open. But still, like I said, so far my biggest season, so I'm not going to be upset at all."