TASHKENT, Uzbekistan - Eleven years after lifting her first Tashkent Open trophy, No.8 seed Sorana Cirstea swept into her second final in the Uzbek capital, dismissing the unseeded Katarina Zavatska 6-0, 6-3 in one hour and 14 minutes.
The Romanian, whose sole career title to date came here in 2008 as an 18-year-old with a 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) defeat of Sabine Lisicki, had not reached a WTA final in over six years since her surprise run at Toronto 2013. But returning to the site of her previous triumph, Cirstea successfully dominated her 19-year-old opponent to reach her fourth overall - and now, having become the sixth player in Tashkent's history to reach two finals, will bid to become the tournament's first two-time champion in its 21st and final year.
Cirstea's game was clicking smoothly from the outset as the 29-year-old began rifling winners off both wings, tallying nine over the course of a one-sided, 23-minute opening act in which she did not lose a point behind her first serve. Indeed, the World No.96 would only concede 10 points in total on her way to her fourth whitewash set of the season - and her form would continue beyond the bagel as she continued to blitz winners to capture the first nine games of the match.
First-time WTA semifinalist Zavatska, by contrast, was unable to get anything going for too long in the biggest match of her career to date. The Ukrainian has enjoyed a stellar past three months, compiling a 20-6 record since Wimbledon coming into today's contest - including winning the longest WTA main draw match of the season over Fiona Ferro in Guangzhou last week, a three-hour, 28-minute 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-4 first-round epic. But Zavatska's ratio of one winner to 13 unforced errors in the first set told an unfortunate tale, and the World No.142's shoulders slumped during the first changeover of the second set as her woes continued.
But, determined to make the match competitive, Zavatska would re-emerge with greater fire and determination to belatedly get on the board with a hold - and then to break a suddenly error-prone Cirstea. The final stretch of the match would be nailbitingly close: Zavatska would throw all she had at the match as she attempted the grand comeback, diggedly chasing down all of Cirstea's powerful shots and boldly injecting pace of her own when needed. Meanwhile, the 2009 Roland Garros quarterfinalist, with the finishing line in sight, started to wobble, with her unforced error tally mounting from four in the first set to 11 in the second.
Ultimately, Zavatska would come to rue two marathon service games as she sought to level the scoreline. The teenager would succeed in breaking Cirstea twice, but could not back either up with a hold despite multiple chances, losing a six-deuce tussle to fall behind 2-4 and a five-deuce one to go down 3-5
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Having come through the tightest passage of the play still just about retaining her lead, Cirstea steadied herself to serve out the win to 30, taking her third match point despite a brace of all-or-nothing return blasts from Zavatska fending off two in a row.
Cirstea's quest for her second career title will continue in the final against No.3 seed Alison Van Uytvanck, who turned in a superbly varied performance to defeat No.5 seed Kristyna Pliskova 6-3, 7-5 in one hour and 25 minutes. Van Uytvanck, who is yet to drop a set in Tashkent this week, dominated proceedings against the 2016 champion, striking 34 winners to just 14 unforced errors. The Belgian, constructing points creatively and flummoxing Pliskova with constant, effortless changes of direction, pace and spin, broke twice en route to the first set and once more to reach the brink of victory in the second.
However, Pliskova fended off a match point at 3-5 with an ace, and gathered herself for a late-stage fightback as Van Uytvanck contributed a few nervy errors serving for the win. Nevertheless, the Budapest champion was able to quickly halt Pliskova's momentum, breaking for the match as the Czech netted a volley on her third match point.