BEIJING, China - World No.1 Ashleigh Barty will contest her second Premier Mandatory final of the season at the China Open, after she saved a match point to beat No.8 seed Kiki Bertens in a dramatic 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(7) semifinal on Saturday afternoon.
Barty extended her mastery over the Dutchwoman to 5-0 with the victory, as she won the fourth three-setter in the pair's overall head-to-head to advance to her fifth championship match of 2019 overall.
After a dominant start, where she won 12 of the first 14 points, Barty was ultimately one point away from defeat in the final set.
The World No.1 saved match point in the tiebreak after coming from 5-3 down in the decider previously, and also trailing 3-0 and 5-4 in the tiebreak, the latter of which came with Bertens serving for two points.
"I thought the quality was exceptional from both of us at times. Win or lose, you come off feeling pretty good about it. Obviously, it sucks there's only one winner," Barty said. "But I'm pretty happy with the way I was able to fight and dig in late in that third, as well.
"I think Kiki has the ability to play a lot of different types of tennis as well. She can be very aggressive, she can drop back and make you play a lot of balls.
"That's one of the biggest challenges about playing her, is you know she's got options B, C and D, all the way through to be able to try to win the match."
Two fairly routine first sets set the tone for the dramatic finale, as each player opened up a 3-0 lead en route to winning her set.
Barty won the first eight points of the match en route to taking a lead she'd never relinquish in the opener, but the World No.1 needed six set points to ultimately come through the set.
In the second, it was the World No.8 who got off to a quick start, winning eight of the first 10 points en route to opening up her own 3-0 lead.
She largely cruised on serve from then on, never facing a break point and losing just eight points in five service games, to knot the match at one set apiece for the fourth time in their five career meetings.
Bertens' momentum continued into the final set as she was the first to break, and the Dutchwoman broke again at 2-2 to move into the ascendency.
"I think particularly probably from middle of the first set right through until I probably broke early in the third, Kiki went into lockdown mode. She didn't give me very many cheapies as well. She does that extremely well," Barty assessed.
I remember from the Miami match, it was very similar. There were periods of that match where she went into complete lockdown. I had to fight and try to find a way through."
After breaking in that key fifth game, Bertens faced adversity and rose to the challenge in her next two service games, holding from 0-30 on each occasion to put herself one game away from her second Premier Mandatory final of the season.
However, after digging out of 15-40 to deuce and putting herself two points away from championship Sunday, the Dutch No.1 dropped serve, burying a dropshot attempt in the net on the third break point of the game to give Barty a second life.
The Aussie later held from 0-30 herself to hold for 6-5, her first lead of the final set since 2-1, to set the stage for the winner-take-all finale.
She will next face Naomi Osaka, as she attempts to stop the Japanese No.1's nine-match winning streak in the Asian swing. Barty leads the head-to-head, but the pair have not played since each became a Grand Slam champion and World No.1
They split two meetings last year, with Osaka winning at the Australian Open, and Barty winning on grass in Nottingham.
"I think both of us are different players now. It's probably hard to take much out of those two matches," Barty said. "It's a bit of a clean slate, a fresh start for both of us."