WUHAN, China - Alison Riske's irresistible surge continued to reach the biggest final of her career so far at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open with a 7-5, 7-5 upset of No.5 seed Petra Kvitova in two hours and five minutes, saving four set points in a thrilling climax to the second set.
"It was a battle," said a delighted Riske afterwards. "But I really enjoyed every bit of it. It was a lot of fun for me... I think I'm just doing what I do well, well. That's just being there in every point. I think returning well. I think this week in particular I've been serving well. It's a tough combination when I'm doing those things. Yeah, just really fun to see things unfold and to have some success with the things that I've been practicing. I think that's the most exciting part for me."
The American's previous eight finals had all come at International level, including her second title in 's-Hertogenbosch this June. But in 2019, Riske's tally of Top 10 wins has now reached four - almost doubling the five she had notched up prior to this season. The first of those had been over six years ago - and indeed, had been the last time Riske had faced Kvitova, upsetting the Czech 6-3, 6-0 in the first round of the 2013 US Open.
— WTA (@WTA) September 27, 2019
Today, the 29-year-old - fuelled by a snack of dried cranberries in the closing stages - had to come through a much tighter contest in order to seal a place in her third final of the year and set up a rematch of January's Shenzhen final against No.9 seed Aryna Sabalenka. For most of a high-octane opening set, there was nothing between the two hard hitters as they bombarded each other with power: both would stave off break point in their opening service game, Riske saving one as Kvitova ballooned a putaway outside the lines, but the Australian Open finalist bouncing back to fight off six in an epic second game.
Serve-and-volleying tactics had extricated Kvitova from trouble, and the two-time Wuhan champion built on that momentum with some sizzling returning to grab the first break - but was immediately broken back as Riske hung in to elicit a series of errors. The stanza would ultimately go down to the wire, with neither player giving an inch to the other - until one loose moment at the worst time from the two-time Wimbledon champion. Serving at 5-6, deuce, Kvitova tapped an easy volley putaway into the net to hand Riske a set point - which the World No.35 took with alacrity, swarming the net herself to thump a drive volley past Kvitova's desperate defence.
— WTA (@WTA) September 27, 2019
As if to make up for losing the set in such a manner, Kvitova pumped up her level as the second set got under way, raising her first serve percentage from 55% to 80%, slamming down a total of nine aces - and piling the pressure on the Riske delivery to seize the first break for 3-2. The former World No.2 would retain this lead until a dramatic dénouement to the set of electrifying quality.
With Kvitova's forehand running rampant, Riske nonetheless managed to fend off two set points serving at 3-5 - and then broke back in a thrilling, seesaw ninth game in which both players' games rose to spectacular heights. Having built a 0-40 lead, Riske was pegged back by a clutch-serving Kvitova, needing to save a further two set points - the last with a marvellous pass - before finally taking her fifth break point.
By now, the depth and pace of the baseline hitting was drawing gasps from the crowd with almost every rally: Kvitova would tally 40 winners to 45 unforced errors, but it was Riske who was rock steady with 12 winners to 21 unforced errors.
Throwing everything at the contest in an attempt to punch through her opponent, Kvitova again boldly ventured forwards - only to be undone by a netted volley on Riske's second match point to close a magnificent contest.
"I had a feeling I was going to get the break back," said Riske of the second set. "I just didn't know when - it just so happened that it was the final game of the match. I felt like if I kept putting myself in the position to break and put pressure on her, especially if I had any look on second serves, to take advantage."
The Wimbledon quarterfinalist has now compiled a 24-7 win-loss record since the start of the grass season - including three wins from match point down - and has the chance to go for her biggest title to date tomorrow in a country where she has historically had a great deal of success. "I've enjoyed playing in China from the first time I came over here," said Riske, who has now reached six finals on Chinese soil. "I'm just really comfortable here. I enjoy all the tournaments. I feel like the courts really suit me, the environments of each tournament. I'm just glad that I have a place that I like - I'll take anything!"