DUBAI, UAE - There will be no three-peat for Elina Svitolina in Dubai.
For the second time in five matches this week, Belinda Bencic battled back from the brink of defeat, prevailing in a thrilling final set to stun the two-time defending champion and reach the final, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(3).
In a wild final set that lasted nearly as long as the first two combined, Bencic rallied from a 5-3 deficit by winning eight straight points, but ultimately needed to show her mettle after Svitolina staved off three chances for her to win the match in a dramatic 12th game.
The former World No.7 sealed the match in style from then on, as she won four of the last five points of the tiebreak to book a spot opposite another former Dubai champion, 2013 winner Petra Kvitova, in stunning fashion.
"I think from 3-5, I just completely [zoned] out. I think I was playing the same, even though I lost the match points. Somehow I was still focused, I don't know why," Bencic said.
"I had a big chance on the first match point. I went for too much. I think I did the right thing. I was doing the right thing. Basically, I stayed in the zone, even in tiebreak.
"I was barely breathing, just playing automatic. You are not thinking any more. It's where the instincts just guide you through it."
— WTA (@WTA) February 22, 2019
The Premier 5-level final is the biggest for Bencic since she won the Rogers Cup in 2015 and burst into the Top 10 as a teenager, but her second tour-level final since October.
"I haven't thought about Toronto at all in the last moments. It means of course a lot to be in the final, but you don't realize when you're playing that it's a Premier 5. Even if it's a 25,000 tournament, you're still the same. In the court, you're not thinking about all this," she said.
"I think I'm always the most proud of how I fight. Even when I lose, I learned myself to just look in the mirror and be proud of myself when I'm fighting, when I'm giving my all, when I'm trying to do what I have to do.
"I think I'll always be proud of that. I think that will be my number one goal always."
Bencic will need to beat her fourth Top 10 player of the week - just as she did in Toronto - in Kvitova should she want to raise the trophy in Dubai, having lost to the Czech in the third round of the Australian Open.
She added: "Of course, she's in great form. Maybe this tournament I'm also in great form. It will be a tough final. The final is always two great players. I'm very happy to play her."