DOHA, Qatar – No.9 seed Aryna Sabalenka moved through to a 10th WTA final of her career at the Qatar Total Open with a stellar 6-4, 6-3 victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova that took one hour 17 minutes.
The Belarusian held a 2-2 career head-to-head record against the 32-year-old coming into this final-four showdown but had won their only previous meeting on a hard court in Indian Wells in 2018 and replicated that success.
It was a battle of players with contrasting experiences in Doha. For Sabalenka, this represents her debut at the event, while Kuznetsova, a finalist in 2007, has won 19 matches across 11 visits – a tournament record she holds jointly with Caroline Wozniacki.
The WTA World No.13, though, proved the stronger player as her power and consistency proved too great for an opponent who failed to match the levels she had shown when she had beaten No.4 seed Belinda Bencic a day previous.
"I'm really happy to be in the final here, especially because it's my first time here," she said. "It's really nice and I'm really happy with the level I'm playing right now and well, we'll see what's going to happen tomorrow, but for sure I will bring everything I have."
After a slow start to the season, she proved she is well on her way back towards her best and put it down to a more patient attitude.
"I think I'm moving better and I'm trying to stay in the longer points," she added. "I'm actually not afraid to play long points and I'm enjoying it.
"And that's the big difference, because when you enjoy it, then you're like you can play. When it's some pressure for you, then it's not a game, you're always under the pressure and you're not enjoying it. So it makes a huge difference."
The Kuznetsova serve looked vulnerable throughout, with Sabalenka insistent on attacking both the first and second deliveries.
"She surprised me in being so aggressive," the Russian confessed.
It was an approach that yielded three breaks in the opening set, and though she was twice disrupted on her own delivery, she twice enjoyed the respite of love games, aided by a first serve that found its mark 73% of the time.
In contrast, Kuznetsova faced a break point in all but three of her service games over the course of the match and in two of those others she was forced to hold to 30.
When in front, the 21-year-old pressed home her advantage. Maintaining the momentum she had gained by winning the opening set, she won the first three games of the second, taking her run to five in succession overall.
The WTA World No.46 stopped the rot with a trio of holds but when asked to serve out the match, Sabalenka rose impressively to the occasion. A deft forehand half volley pushed her 30-0 clear and after a big serve took her to the brink, her passage was sealed with a thumping winner after a penetrative delivery.
"I was a little bit slower than yesterday and I didn't serve so well, so it was quite a big change," Kuznetsova said. "I just need to get back and be used to playing back-to-back matches against Top 10 players.
"For me she played unbelievable today and I was not at my best, she was just better."
Petra Kvitova waits for Sabalenka in Saturday's final.