Wildcard Jelena Ostapenko delivered a scintillating performance to overpower Elena Rybakina 6-4, 6-1 in the Viking International semifinals. In the title match, she will face Anett Kontaveit in an all-Baltic clash, with the Estonian progressing after Camila Giorgi retired due to a left thigh injury trailing 5-4.
Ostapenko struck 38 winners to 30 unforced errors, and finished a match with zero double faults for the first time since winning the 2019 Luxembourg final. The result puts the Latvian World No.43 into her ninth career final, fifth at WTA 500 level or higher, and biggest since Miami 2018.
"I'm really happy with the way I played this week, and every match I played better and better," Ostapenko said in her post-match press conference. "It's been a while [since making a] final, so I'm really happy to be in a final and looking forward to tomorrow's match."
The former Roland Garros champion roared out of the blocks, smacking nine winners and rattling off the first three games to take a 3-0 double-break lead. But Rybakina remained calm in the face of the barrage and clung on as Ostapenko's radar began to oscillate. The Kazakh clawed her way back to 3-3 via two marathon breaks of the Ostapenko serve, which she sealed on her fifth and second break points respectively.
In previous matches, Ostapenko has reacted to her unplayable purple patches ending by veering to the opposite extreme with cascades of unforced errors. But the 23-year-old was on a mission in Eastbourne, and weathered the shift in momentum well. She responded by battling through two marathon multi-deuce games of her own, finding a brilliant reflex angle to break back and reach 5-3.
A set point on Rybakina's serve came and went after Ostapenko sent an inexplicable forehand slice wide, but the World No.21 required medical treatment on her back after holding. Her game would not recover its punch afterwards.
Ostapenko closed out the first set with little fuss and dominated the second. Rybakina continued to battle hard, but was undone by mounting double faults - a pair of which featured in three of her service games in the second set.
Ostapenko maintained her focus, winning all three of the multi-deuce tussles that could have been potential turning points, and sealed victory on a sixth double fault from her opponent.
"It's actually nice to have a Baltic final, because [we're] not such big countries, but we still have good players," Ostapenko said, looking ahead to the championship match. "Anett, I know since juniors. We have been playing a lot, maybe not so many matches but we practice sometimes together, in juniors, and played even doubles. So I know her quite well."
"The last couple of years, she's been playing very good," Ostapenko continued. "I think tomorrow is not going to be an easy match. We will have some good rallies, I think. Just looking forward, it's great to be in the final and just to enjoy it, because as I said, grass court season is very short. So I just want to enjoy it and to show my best."
Earlier, Kontaveit moved into her eighth career final, fourth at WTA 500 level or higher and second of the year after the Grampians Trophy in February. The first six games had seen both big hitters stay firmly with each other until a Giorgi double fault opened the door for Kontaveit.
The Estonian took full advantage, slamming a backhand winner to break for 5-3. Giorgi responded with two superb backhands of her own to break back - but was unable to continue at that point.
"Of course, it's never the way you'd want to win," Kontaveit said, in her post-match press conference. "It was a very close nine games, and I was very surprised and very sorry for her that she had to retire.
"But I have had really good matches so far, the ones leading up to the semifinal as well. I'm really happy with the way I'm playing and really happy to be in the final."
Kontaveit will seek to improve a 1-6 career record in WTA finals (excluding the cancelled Grampians Trophy title match). She will be buoyed by a perfect 2-0 head-to-head lead over Ostapenko, including a previous grass meeting at the 2015 Ilkley ITF W50 event.
"[Ostapenko] hits the ball very hard and takes it very early, I'll have to be ready for that," Kontaveit said. "We have played each other quite a few times back in the years, I think. Not in the recent few years, but I know what to be ready for. She's a very good player."