ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - For the third time in four events this season, Elena Rybakina will play for a trophy.
Less than 24 hours after she saved two match points to beat French qualifier Oceane Dodin in the quarterfinals, the No.8 seed scored her second straight comeback to reach the championship match of the St. Petersburg Ladies' Trophy with a 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory over No.6 seed Maria Sakkari.
The site of her first career breakthrough two years ago, where she reached the quarterfinals as a qualifying wildcard ranked World No.450 and beat then-World No.7 Caroline Garcia en route, Rybakina seeks her second title of 2020 and third of her career in her first final at Premier level or higher.
"It's an experience every time to win the matches like this. It's not easy when you're match points down. Yesterday, so many things didn't work out, but I'm really happy that I could do this," Rybakina said.
"[Today], it was really difficult at moments, but I was trying to focus on every point. I'm really happy that I can play the final tomorrow. I think [winning like this] is helping a lot."
A game away from defeat when she stepped to the line to serve at 6-3, 5-4, Rybakina found a second gear to win nine of the last 10 games of the match. She won 13 of the last 16 points of the second set, as a love hold and a love break put her up 6-5, before she saved a break point which, if converted, would've allowed Sakkari to force a tiebreak.
After the two players traded breaks to begin the final set, the No.8 seed cruised through to the finish by winning the last five games. Serving at 81% for the set, the World No.25 lost just three points in her last two service games of the decider, and broke Sakkari in all four of her service games of the third.
Ranked World No.196 at this time last year, the 20-year-old is projected to make her Top 20 debut in the WTA rankings on Monday, and should she want to leave St. Petersburg with her biggest-ever title, she'll need to end the St. Petersburg winning streak of defending champion and No.2 seed Kiki Bertens, who beat Russian No.1 Ekaterina Alexandrova in three sets in the day's second semifinal.
In their lone prior meeting, Bertens beat Rybakina in the semifinals on grass at the Libéma Open last summer, where the Kazakh was a qualifier and reached her first WTA semifinal.
"I'm really happy to start the season like this. I had a great preseason so I feel good physically, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow's match," Rybakina added.
"I played against her six months ago on grass. It was tough, it was close. I will watch some of the match again, but it was a different surface, but I will talk to my coach and try to do my best. It's such a big event and I really want to win, so I will try to do my best."