HIROSHIMA, Japan -- The spectators at the Hana-cupid Japan Women's Open will get to see an all-Japanese final on Sunday, as unseeded home favorites Misaki Doi and Nao Hibino picked up semifinal wins on Saturday to book their spots in the championship round.
Doi upset No.2 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, 6-4, 6-3, to claim a spot in her third career WTA singles final, while Hibino moved into her fifth career WTA singles final after overcoming Romania's Mihaela Buzarnescu, 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 in the earlier semifinal.
It will be the first all-Japanese singles final on the WTA since 1997, when Naoko Sawamatsu defeated Yuka Yoshida in the Jakarta title match. Both Doi and Hibino are seeking their second WTA singles titles -- Doi won at Luxembourg in October of 2015, while Hibino triumphed in Tashkent that very same month.
Doi and Hibino are currently deadlocked in their singles head-to-head with two wins apiece. The two Japanese players have also teamed up to reach the Hiroshima doubles final this week, where they will face Christina McHale of the United States and Valeria Savinykh of Russia.
"I think things are going well at this tournament because I came through a tough first round. I've gone through a tough time, being ranked in the 300's. I went through a period in which I struggled to find ways to win matches no matter what. That time is helping me," Doi said after the match.
"I know Nao really well. It is rare that two Japanese players meet in the finals. I want to enjoy tomorrow and hope that both of us play well."
— WTA (@WTA) September 14, 2019
Left-handed Doi, who holds a career-high ranking of World No.30 and is currently ranked World No.107, stayed with powerful Kudermetova throughout the entirety of the first set, and neither player faced a break point through 5-4.
Despite firing her seventh ace of the match in that game, World No.48 Kudermetova double faulted to queue up the first break point of the clash, which doubled as a set point for Doi.
There, the Japanese No.2 blasted a second-service return deep into the court to force a wide backhand from the Russian, and after just one break point between the combatants combined, the first set ended in favor of Doi.
"I was a bit nervous but I am satisfied with the quality and the level of my game," Doi said. "She served well in the 1st set so it was tough but I am happy that I was able to create a momentum. I was able to adjust my game to create my own rhythm despite the fact I was playing at her pace in the first set."
Doi continued her momentum in the second set, breaking Kudermetova for 2-0 and consolidating to reach 3-0. However, the Russian’s powerful shots clicked back into place, and she blasted a forehand winner down the line to earn her first break of the match and pull back on serve at 3-2.
Doi, though, regained her break advantage in the very next game after a rally error from Kudermetova.
— WTA (@WTA) September 14, 2019
Doi had to erase one break point and survive a seven-deuce game before holding for 5-2, and the Russian kept fighting, coming back from 0-30 down to hold for 5-3 with a forehand winner. But that wing cost Kudermetova in the next game, as a netted error at 30-30 handed Doi her first match point.
At that juncture, a strong serve out wide set up an error-forcing forehand, which sent Doi into the final on her home soil against her countrywoman and doubles partner.
Both players finished the match winning around 80 percent of their first-service points, but Doi claimed 64 percent of points on her second serve, while Kudermetova was only effective 43 percent of the time after that shot.
"I tried to anticipate her serves but that was not working," Doi said of her tactics. "I decided not to think about it too much and believed in myself - that worked because I began returning well and started to put pressure on her first serves."
In the earlier semifinal, former Top 20 player Buzarnescu served for the opening set after breaking serve for a 5-3 lead with a winning backhand pass. World No.146 Hibino broke back immediately, but the Romanian claimed her opponent’s serve once more, punching a backhand volley winner to wrap up the set.
However, Hibino dominated in the second set, as her stellar court coverage and sterling groundstrokes led her to a bagel over current World No.125 Buzarnescu.
Hibino, who ousted top seed and defending champion Hsieh Su-wei in the quarterfinals, had nine winners to just four unforced errors in the second set, while Buzarnescu’s four winners were negated by 12 unforced errors during that timeframe.
Japanese No.3 Hibino knocked off an overhead to claim the first break of the decider and lead 2-1, then staved off three break points in the next game to reach 3-1.
Buzarnescu also had two break points at 4-3, but Hibino erased those chances as well. Finally, Hibino broke once more at 5-3, closing out her victory after two hours and 10 minutes once Buzarnescu fired a forehand long.