BOGOTA, Colombia - Irina Falconi and Sílvia Soler-Espinosa will meet for the first time as they face off on Sunday in the final of the Claro Open Colsanitas, after advancing past tough semifinal matchups in three-set battles.
The Ecuadorian-born American Falconi overcame a mid-match wobble to move past the on-fire Lara Arruabarrena, who had only dropped five games in the three matches leading up the semifinals. But the Spaniard couldn't find any answers for Falconi's dictating play or her short-angled inside out forehands in the day's first semifinal match.
"Me and her are good friends on and off the court, and we both knew it would be tough to play our good friend," said Falconi of facing Arruabarrena. "It really felt like a final, too, since she was the No.4 seed and I'm No.5."
Arruabarrena quickly found herself down a set and 2-4, but she was able to bring herself back from the brink of defeat as Falconi's groundstrokes misfired. The American held steady in the third set though, breaking early to get a lead ahead at 3-1, and hanging on to win the match 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 after almost two hours.
"I had chances in the second set, especially when I had the 4-2, but of course Lara is such a competitor," Falconi said. "I knew I had to get the ball back one more time than her, and I did that until I won."
Falconi, who is into her first WTA final at the Claro Open Colsanitas, is set to face Soler-Espinosa for the title, who overcame a tough challenge from Brazil's No.2, Paula Cristina Goncalves.
The 25-year-old from Sao Paolo has found great success on the South American red clay: she made her WTA main draw debut in Rio de Janeiro, where she made the quarterfinals and her semifinal appearance here in Bogota is her career best. By contrast, Soler-Espinosa came to Bogota having only won one match all year. She found her game on the red clay, and in the last round she ended Amra Sadikovic's fairytale comeback - the Swiss retired in 2014 and reached the quarterfinals in her WTA return this week.
"My coach and I have been working hard for a long time, and to see the results burst out like this the way they've done this week is a great feeling," Soler-Espinosa said after the match. "The results are coming one day at a time, and I hope I can repeat it tomorrow [in the final] as well."
Goncalves found her usually reliable serves under fire early on - she lead the pack having hit 22 aces in three matches, but against Soler-Espinosa she was broken in the fifth game of the match, giving the Spaniard just enough of an edge to take the second set. They stayed in touching distance during the second set, with Goncalves recovering from 2-4 down to force a tiebreak and send the match into a deciding set.
"When I got the break, I guess I felt like it was hard for me to close it out in the second set," Soler-Espinosa said. "Closing out matches is hard sometimes, and especially against an opponent who was playing as well as her."
"And she was braver that me in the tiebreak - she took it away."
But the tide turned again as the Brazilian lost her serve in the longest game of the match to go down 2-4 again in the final set. Soler-Espinosa didn't let her escape a second time, though, and booked her spot in the final 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-2.
"It's not every day that you make it to a final, so first I'm going to enjoy the feeling. It's going to be a tough fight out there tomorrow, I'm going to give it my all and fight to the end."