SOFIA, Bulgaria - Caroline Wozniacki made the final of the Qatar Airways Tournament Of Champions Sofia - and moved back into the Top 10 - on Saturday, defeating Tsvetana Pironkova in the semifinals of the year-ender.
The early goings were tight as neither player - two of the steadiest players on the tour - gave any ground, the first set locked at 4-all. But Wozniacki, a former World No.1 with 20 WTA titles to her name, knows a thing or two about lifting her game at crunch time, and she reeled off seven straight games from there to build a 64 50 lead; she closed the Bulgarian out two games later, 64 61.
"She was playing well at the beginning - she had nothing to lose, and she was playing in front of her home crowd," Wozniacki said. "It's never easy playing a player in front of their home crowd, but once I got used to her playing style, things got better for me. I'm happy to move through in straight sets today."
"I did my best, which was the main goal for me," Pironkova said afterwards. "Even if I lost, this was an amazing week for me. I played four great matches, from which I gained a lot of experience, and it has been very exciting to play in front of my home crowd at a tournament of this level for the first time."
Wozniacki has now secured a return to the Top 10. Having fallen to No.11 after the US Open, she will now move back to No.10, replacing Marion Bartoli - but the focus for Wozniacki right now is on one thing, Sunday's final in Sofia.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time and one tournament at a time - I'm just thinking about what I'm going to do in the final tomorrow," Wozniacki said. "I just want to keep working hard, keep playing my game and keep having fun. If you forget the fun, it doesn't work. I just enjoy being out there playing my game, and it's just a privilege to play in front of such a great crowd here in Sofia."
Next week will be Wozniacki's 174th career week in the Top 10, sixth-most for active players (after Venus Williams' 554, Serena Williams' 548, Maria Sharapova's 323, Svetlana Kuznetsova's 284 and Jelena Jankovic's 226).
Awaiting the No.1-seeded Wozniacki in the final is No.2 seed Nadia Petrova, who served up a storm to beat No.4 seed Roberta Vinci, 67(8) 61 64, holding all 15 of her service games and fending off all 10 of Vinci's break points - the Russian also served up her eighth ace of the match on match point.
"Nadia played really well and served unbelievable, especially in the second set," Vinci said after the marathon. "It was a great match from both of us, but I think she played better on the important points, especially when I had break points. Still, I'm happy I played a good tournament here. I lost, but it's okay."
Wozniacki leads Petrova in their head-to-head, 4-1, and while Petrova's one win was their only indoor hardcourt meeting, it did come via retirement.
But after the win over Vinci, Petrova vowed to give it one last push before the off-season. "To win matches like this feels amazing," she said. "It doesn't matter what happens now, I'm going to let it all out tomorrow. It's the last match of the year then I'll be out of energy, and in the off-season I'll know I gave it my all."