ABU DHABI, U.A.E. -- Veronika Kudermetova of Russia unlocked a massive achievement at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women's Tennis Open on Tuesday, defeating Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk, 7-6(8), 6-4, to reach her first-ever WTA singles final.
World No.46 Kudermetova had gone 0-4 in her previous WTA singles semifinals, but the Russian at last broke through to her first championship match appearance via her one-hour and 40-minute victory over the Ukrainian teenager.
"I think it was a really tough match today," Kudermetova said, during her post-match press conference. "I think we were a little bit nervous. It was really tough, but I tried to be focused until the end."
"I think I have a little bit more experience than Marta," Kudermetova continued. "She’s really young, she’s 18. Today, I think it was the key, [that] I really have a little bit more experience than her."
In a closely-contested match, very little separated the pair, with Kudermetova's five service breaks to Kostyuk's four making the difference in the match. Kostyuk had 22 winners to Kudermetova's 21, but the World No.99 from Ukraine, who was in her first WTA semifinal, had three more unforced errors than the Russian.
Kudermetova, who notched her fifth career Top 10 win over Elina Svitolina in the quarterfinals, will now have to pull off a sixth Top 10 win if she hopes to hoist the trophy -- the Russian will face World No.10 Aryna Sabalenka in the final. Sabalenka won their only previous meeting, back in 2015 on the ITF Challenger circuit.
"We’re friendly, and I think it’s a really interesting and fun match tomorrow," said Kudermetova, regarding her upcoming clash with Sabalenka.
"From my side, I don’t have expectations for tomorrow, because Aryna, she is a Top 10 player, she plays unbelievable, she’s played really good here," Kudermetova added.
"I think she’ll have a little bit more pressure than me because she’s supposed to win tomorrow," the Russian continued. "She’s stayed Top 10, she’s already won two tournaments in a row. Tomorrow, I’ll play free, I’ll try to play relaxed and try to enjoy my final."
Kostyuk claimed the early lead in the opening frame, blasting her way to a break for 3-1 after Kudermetova was unable to get a first serve into play during that game. The Russian, however, quickly brushed that off, cracking powerful returns of her own to break back in the very next game.
Kudermetova then went on a run, firing a forehand passing winner to move ahead a break at 4-3, then won a fourth consecutive game, saving a break point in the process, to reach 5-3. Serving for the set at 5-4, though, Kudermetova could not wrap up the lead, as Kostyuk charged the net with great success, putting away overheads with aplomb to break for 5-5.
The tense opener naturally moved into a tiebreak, with very little separating two players determined to reach a first WTA singles final. Kostyuk claimed the first set point at 6-5, after coming out on top in a grueling rally, but the Ukrainian teen dropped her next two service points, the second with a double fault, giving Kudermetova a set point at 7-6.
Deep, strong returns by Kostyuk saved that set point, as well as a second at 8-7. Kudermetova, though, earned a third set point with a rally forehand winner, and the Russian at last closed out the tiebreak 10-8 after a netted return by her 18-year-old opponent.
Kudermetova claimed the early lead in the second set, blasting a stunning forehand crosscourt return winner onto the sideline to wrap up a break for 2-0. Kostyuk charged back, getting back on serve for 3-2, but the Ukrainian followed that comeback up by dropping serve at love, as Kudermetova fired a forehand winner to close out another break for 4-2.
Serving for the match at 5-3, Kudermetova pulled off some strong serves to garner two match points, but the steely Kostyuk fought through the game to fend off those chances. A missed dropshot by Kudermetova on break point gave the Ukrainian new life, as the teenager was back on serve at 5-4.
Miscues by Kostyuk gave Kudermetova two more match points in the next game, though the Ukrainian used aggressive play to stave off that pair as well. In the end, though, it was Kudermetova who broke through for her first final, winning a final rally on her fifth match point to attain her breakthrough moment.