LYON, France – Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin survived a topsy-turvy clash against Alison Van Uytvanck to reach her first final since Melbourne at the Open 6 ème Sens – Métropole de Lyon.
The top-seeded American held her nerve across three tiebreak sets against Van Uytvanck, firing 29 winners and weathering the Belgian’s 22 aces to triumph 7-6(5), 6-7(2), 7-6(2) after a two-hour and 27-minute battle.
"It was a really tough match. She played tremendously. Every point was a battle. Just a few points, a few shots went my way," Kenin said after the match.
"I know her game pretty well, so I knew what I needed to do. She's improved a lot, and I've improved. I expected her to come out and play some big tennis and serve big.
"It was easy to adapt because I know her game well, but the scoreline wasn't easy."
It’s Kenin’s sixth final of her career, and the first final since her maiden Grand Slam victory at the Australian Open. The American struggled to regain her winning ways after Melbourne, going winless in Dubai and Doha in singles, despite reaching back-to-back quarterfinals with Bethanie Mattek-Sands in doubles.
"I'm happy to be in the finals. I wasn't 100 percent in the last two weeks in Dubai and Doha, but I played some tough players," the American continued.
"I think this is a good turnaround for me. I've had a few matches, and even though it's not the best tennis, I would say, but in each match win, I'm playing better and better."
In Lyon, Kenin rushed out to an early lead after a flurry of three breaks of serve in a row, consolidating to a 4-1 advantage. But the Belgian - who had taken out Lyon local Caroline Garcia in the previous round - was determined to fight back, breaking at 4-3 to get them back on serve.
From there, it was anyone’s set as Kenin’s relentless attacking met its match against Van Uytvanck’s service dominance. The No.5 seed’s solid service hold for 6-6 included three aces - bringing her total for the set to eight - and sent them into a tiebreaker.
The Australian Open champion managed to hold her nerve in the big moments, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the decider and staying in front to take the opening set, 7-6(5) in 46 minutes.
Van Uytvanck’s serve continued to keep her in the contest, putting the pressure on the American to respond to her opponent’s strong delivery. The Belgian broke at 3-1 and extended her lead to a commanding 5-2, but she saw her lead slip away as Kenin came roaring back.
Kenin broke at 5-3 as Van Uytvanck served for the set, and sent them into another tiebreaker. This time, it was Van Uytvanck who pulled off the escape act with a dominant decider, allowing her opponent just two points as she took the second set 7-6(2).
With both players locked in, the final set was just as tense and tight as the previous two, looking bound for a decider. Van Uytvanck and Kenin both had chances to take the lead - Kenin held three break points early in the set while Van Uytvanck created two chances herself - but neither could capitalize.
It came down once again to a deciding tiebreak, and it was there that Kenin finally pulled away from Van Uytvanck. Targeting her opponent’s second serve, Kenin battled her way to a double mini-break lead and claimed the victory after two hours and 27 minutes.
Kenin fired 29 winners across all three sets, offset by her own 40 unforced errors, while Van Uytvanck struck 38 winners and 28 unforced errors. Van Uytvanck rained down 22 aces against the American, but Kenin attacked the second serve - keeping Van Uytvack at 36% of points won - as a key to victory.
Into her second final of the year, Kenin will take on the rising Anna-Lena Friedsam for a chance at the trophy in Lyon. Friedsam, unseeded, battled through a tough semifinal of her own earlier in the day, taking down No.7 seed Daria Kasatkina in three sets, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.
"I've had tough matches to get to time final. The deeper I get into the tournament, the harder it's going to get," Kenin said. "Everyone's fighting and it's not going to be easy. I'm just ready to fight. I've had three sets these past three days, and long hours of tennis.
"I'm happy with it. I like playing... so it's a good boost to my confidence after Melbourne, for sure. I know [Friedsam], but I've never practiced, played against her or watched her play.
"It's a little different playing someone who you don't know, rather than coming out and playing someone who you know what she's doing. I'm just going to have to figure out a plan, but the first plan is to play my game, no matter who I'm playing. During the match, I'll adjust if I need to."