TIANJIN, China – Heather Watson reached her fourth career WTA final by overcoming Veronika Kudermetova, 6-1, 6-4 to qualify for the showpiece of the Tianjin Open in 74 minutes.
The British player, who was the second from last direct acceptance for the event, showed no signs of having played three hours to overcome No.8 seed Magda Linette the previous day, despite her opponent having been on court a matter of minutes longer all week.
The opening set was utterly dominated by the WTA World No.125, who was far the more secure player on serve and raced into the early ascendancy. Although Kudermetova, who had been aiming for her first career final, improved in the second, but was unable to break her opponent’s impressive resilience.
“Yesterday was a really tough match and I think all those hours on court helped me play well today, so maybe it was a good thing,” she explained.
“It’s my first time here in Tianjin, so it’s a great first experience for me. I’m looking forward to playing the final and hopefully I can play as well as I managed today.”
Watson sent warning to her opponent in the very first game as she secured a comfortable hold to 15, while the WTA World No.45 struggled to get her serve going and was immediately broken.
With a first serve percentage of just 35% in the opener, she put pressure on her thumping groundstrokes. Against Dayana Yastremska in her Friday quarterfinal, her length was regularly immaculate, but she failed to find such accuracy as the opening set slipped away in just 25 minutes as Watson broke twice.
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Both players faced crisis moments early in the second set, though Kudermetova’s ability to save a couple of break points for the first time in the match was clearly pivotal in her finally establishing a foothold. At last her big weapons did not desert her, with a thumping forehand securing the first before a barrage of heavy hitting allowed her to move into the net and thwart the second.
Watson’s problems, meanwhile, were of her own making as a couple of double faults dragger her back to deuce for the first time, though she solved the problem by landing key first serves.
She maintained the momentum from that hold into the following game and this time did make her big breakthrough, returning positively and earning her reward of a break. The backhand winner down the line to bring up 30-40 was a particularly impressive shot.
Even with the advantage secured, though, Watson had to fend off a spirited effort from her rival, who fashioned her first break points of the match after 53 minutes. Having initially struggled to find her serve during this particular game, the 27-year-old rediscovered it when 15-40 down, then showed admirable defensive skills to frustrate Kudermetova further.
Two big match point opportunities were passed up on the Kudermetova delivery but Watson held her nerve on serve to set up a showdown with Rebecca Peterson as she aims to push her career record in WTA finals to four wins from as many appearances.