No.1 seed Elina Svitolina's decision to take a last-minute wildcard to the Chicago Women's Open has paid off after she defeated Rebecca Peterson 6-1, 6-7(4), 6-3 in two hours and 26 minutes to reach her 19th career final.
It is the Ukrainian's first final since her title run in Strasbourg last September - also in the week prior to a Grand Slam. A first meeting with Peterson, who was bidding to reach her third WTA final, saw Svitolina ultimately tally 29 winners, including seven aces, to the unseeded Swede's 27.
Olympic bronze medallist Svitolina had struggled since arriving in North America from Tokyo, losing her openers in both Montreal and Cincinnati to Johanna Konta and Angelique Kerber respectively - despite heavy leads in both head-to-heads. But in Chicago, she has found her groove again.
Turning points: An error-strewn start by Peterson saw Svitolina rattle off the first 10 points of the match, and the World No.59 did not recover in time to make an impact on the first set. But after finding just three winners to 15 unforced errors in the opener, Peterson hammered two spectacular forehand winners to break Svitolina at the start of the second - and that wing would remain spectacular for the rest of a set in which she found 17 winners.
Peterson's purple patch ended when she failed to serve out the set at 5-4, with Svitolina levelling on her fifth break point. But it was Svitolina who couldn't close out the match at 6-5 despite coming two points from victory on three occasions, and Peterson dominated the ensuing tiebreak.
In the decider, Svitolina raised her aggression levels significantly on both serve and return. She held break point in all of Peterson's service games and converted twice, once at the start of the set and again to seal the win. In between, Svitolina's own delivery was rock-solid - she would win 15 of the last 16 points on her serve.
What's next for Svitolina: The former World No.3 will seek to extend her impressive 15-3 record in WTA finals. The only players to have beaten Svitolina in a WTA title match are Agnieszka Radwanska (New Haven 2016), Petra Kvitova (Zhuhai 2016) and Ashleigh Barty (WTA Finals 2019).
In the Chicago final on Saturday, Svitolina will face No.9 seed Alizé Cornet of France, who defeated Russia's Varvara Gracheva in the late semifinal, 4-6, 6-1, 6-0.
Preceding Svitolina on Center Court, Gracheva had upset No.8 seed Marta Kostyuk 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-4 in a quarterfinal resumed from the previous day at 5-3 to the Russian in the second set. World No.88 Gracheva had carried a 1-3 record against Kostyuk into the match, but recovered from missing five set points in the first set to reach her first WTA semifinal.
But it was Cornet who turned the tables on Gracheva in the Russian's second match of the day. Former World No.11 Cornet stormed back from the loss of the first set to win the last eight games of the match and collect the win after just under two hours of action.
In the final set, Cornet won two-thirds of her second-service points and never faced a break point, as she zoomed through the latter stages of the clash.
Cornet is now into the 14th WTA singles final of her career, with six titles and seven runner-up finishes on her resume. This will be the Frenchwoman's first final in just over two years, since she fell to her compatriot Fiona Ferro at Lausanne in 2019.