HUA HIN, Thailand – Qualifier Leonie Kung made progress into the final of the GSB Thailand Open presented by E@, just her second WTA Tour main draw event, by overcoming No.8 seed Nao Hibino, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.
The 19-year-old came from behind in the first set to take the edge but was overcome in the second, despite a strong comeback from 5-1 behind. And she also came from a break down in the decider to continue a memorable run which had already seen her defeat No.3 seed Wang Qiang.
“I started really well – like always! – then it got shaky. I got crazy on court, tried to go for the winner too much and made too many mistakes," she said.
"I was happy to win the first set. In the second set, I was out of energy. In the last set, I managed to push myself through it."
Kung made a confident start, holding to 15 then bringing up a break point in the second game with a fine crosscourt backhand onto the tramline. Hibino, though, averted the crisis and moved ahead in a lengthy third game.
The Swiss youngster was playing in a streaky manner and hit back with a break to love, though after a stoppage in play, when she was leading 30-40 on her opponents’ serve, she struggled to get going and fell 5-4 behind.
Her fighting spirit has been evident throughout her run in Thailand and was amply on display as she sped through the subsequent three games to claim a set that might easily have slipped away. It was also the first that Hibino had dropped in a week that had already seen her beat WTA World No.4 Elina Svitolina.
That tenacity was on show again in the second, although it went the way of the Japanese. Hibino broke Kung three times en route to a 5-1 lead but had to fend off a dangerous comeback that resulted in the former Wimbledon girls’ finalist getting to within a game.
“I felt it in my legs,” she admitted. I’m not only tired physically but mentally. I wasn’t very emotional, either positive or negative. It went to 5-1 quickly. Maybe if I had won another game at the start, it would have been 5-5 or 4-4. But it happened, what can you do?”
With the momentum in her favor, Hibino broke in the opening game of the decider, yet that would be as close as the Hiroshima champion would get to victory. Straight away, Kung hit back by breaking the crucially saved a couple of break points in the following game.
She then caught fired in the fifth game as she held to love and followed that up by breaking in a flawless manner as she enjoyed a nine-point winning run.
That proved to be the critical phase of play as she fended off nerves in the final game to save two break points before sealing the victory on her first match point.
Kung’s fairy tale run will end on Sunday against No.5 seed Magda Linette, who earlier defeated Patricia Maria Tig in straight sets.
Asked what she would have said if someone had told her last Friday her tournament would end like this, she said: “I would’ve said you’re crazy and probably wrong. It’s a dream come true. I would’ve never through I would make it through qualifying and into the final of the event. It’s an unbelievable run and I’m so, so happy.
“I’ll try to get good sleep and a good breakfast. Good food always works. I’ll try to put all the energy I’ve got left towards the match and enjoy it.”