Sorana Cirstea and Barbora Krejcikova both stormed back from a set down to notch semifinal victories at the Internationaux de Strasbourg on Friday and set up a clash for the title.
Cirstea overcame No.8 seed Magda Linette of Poland, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, as the Romanian aims to collect her second title of the season on Saturday. World No.61 Cirstea earned her second career WTA singles title -- her first in almost 13 years -- in Istanbul last month.
No.5 seed Krejcikova joined her in the final, after the Czech ended the breakthrough run of German qualifier Jule Niemeier, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. World No.38 Krejcikova is also into her second final of the season, following her runner-up finish in Dubai, but she is still seeking her first-ever WTA singles title.
Cirstea is now the second Romanian to reach the Strasbourg final, following in the footsteps of former Top 10 player Irina Spirlea, who won the title in 1998. It continues a resurgent year for Cirstea, who has already won 14 matches in 2021 after going 4-8 at tour-level last year.
"I thought from the beginning it was a very good match, very good level, both of us were playing well," Cirstea told the press, after her win.
Former Top 25 player Cirstea had 24 winners to Linette's 14 on the day in total, as the Polish player was denied a trip to her fifth career WTA singles final.
But it was Linette who had the early lead in their tilt, using well-timed returns to earn the only break of the opener for 3-1 and ease to the one-set lead from there.
Cirstea fell behind an early break in the second set as well, but aggressive play pulled her back level to 4-4. After a love hold for 5-4, Cirstea took her opportunity and cracked deep shots to earn two set points, closing out the second set after a Linette backhand went awry.
At 2-2 in the final set, Cirstea slammed her first ace of the day to hold at love, and that unlocked a run of four straight games to close out the match and book a spot in the final after two hours and eight minutes of play.
Cirstea said that in the first set, "I thought I was missing too many returns, not putting the first serve in, and I think those were the two areas where I focused a bit more. To try and start with the first serve, and put the return in, and don't give those free points, and I think that made the difference."
In the second semifinal, Krejcikova was trying to prevent herself from becoming the latest victim of 216th-ranked Niemeier, who earned her first-ever WTA-level victory in the opening round before picking up her first two Top 100 victories over Shelby Rogers and Arantxa Rus on Thursday.
"This week, [Niemeier is] doing really well," Krejcikova told the media, after her win. "I remember when I did something similar in Nurnberg 2017, when I was a qualifier and I reached the final, and I remember I was playing girls that were [ranked] way, way higher than I was.
"She showed that she can play really big tennis, she’s serving very well, she’s very solid, and I just wish her all the best for the upcoming tournaments."
And in fact it was Niemeier who held the early advantage. The qualifier failed to serve out the set at 5-4, but broke Krejcikova again at 5-5 to line up a second chance. That time, Niemeier drew errant returns from Krejcikova to eke out the one-set lead.
But Krejcikova, currently at her career-high ranking, charged back in the second set, building a 5-1 lead. Niemeier staged a comeback, but on the second time of asking, Krejcikova served out the set at 5-3, finishing it off with a forehand winner.
A single break of serve settled the decider as Krejcikova broke Niemeier at 3-3 by forcing errors from the German with sturdy play. Krejcikova fended off a break point at 4-3, preventing the qualifier from getting back on serve, and at 5-3, the Czech used superb serving to claim a love hold for a two-hour and 14-minute victory.
When asked about the prospect of winning her first singles title, Krejcikova said that "for me, it would be a like a dream come true. I always wanted to go and play the highest tournaments, to win the tournaments and everything, but I still have one more step to go.
"Tomorrow it’s going to be really tough, because Sorana is in the finals and she’s playing great tennis, so let’s see. She’s a big fighter, same as me, so I think it’s going to be a good match and the better one will win."