Home interest is guaranteed into the final weekend of the inaugural Astana Open after top seed and Kazakh No.1 Yulia Putintseva triumphed 6-2, 6-4 over No.6 seed Rebecca Peterson in a superb one-hour, 43-minute semifinal.
Earlier, No.2 seed Alison Van Uytvanck had progressed 6-3, 6-3 over Jaqueline Cristian in one hour and 16 minutes. Saturday's final will mark the first WTA final between the top two seeds of a tournament since Linz 2020, when No.1 Aryna Sabalenka defeated No.2 Elise Mertens.
Both Putintseva and Van Uytvanck will be contesting their fifth career final. It is the second of the season for Putintseva, 26, who won Budapest in July; she owns a 2-2 record in WTA finals, and will be bidding for her first trophy off clay. Van Uytvanck, 27, holds a perfect 4-0 record in title matches, and her run this week marks her fourth WTA final indoors.
The pair have met four times at pro level, with Putintseva winning all four encounters, including a 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 victory in the second round of the Australian Open this year. However, Saturday's clash will be their first indoors.
Putintseva puts on variety show against Peterson
The scoreline of Putintseva's win belies the quality showcased by both players, as well as how tightly it was ultimately contested.
The World No.47 dominated the first set-and-a-half with a dazzling array of perfectly-executed tactics. Her watertight defensive skills and refusal to give Peterson the same ball twice made Putintseva near-impossible to hit through. Meanwhile, her ability to hammer down-the-line winners from defensive positions and end points quickly with exquisitely disguised dropshots enabled her to take charge of rallies when she needed to.
As Putintseva built a 5-1 second-set lead, the one-sided scoreboard did not quite do Peterson's level justice. The Swede had come out on the wrong end of several multi-deuce tussles, but showed real grit as she nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback.
Peterson's heavy topspin forehand has been a significant weapon all week, and it fizzed with intent as she broke Putintseva as the home player served for the match at 5-2. Forehand winners also saved two match points on her own serve in the next game, and the World No.86 held two break points to level at 5-5.
Under pressure, Putintseva came up with the goods with her own forehand. Two excellent shots from that wing, a pass and a down-the-line, erased the break points. A huge slice of luck went her way at deuce, when a dead net cord brought up a third match point for Putintseva - duly converted after Peterson netted a backhand.
Quotable: "The second set was tight since the beginning," assessed Putintseva afterwards. "It was a few close games which turned my way. I knew the 4-1 game was very, very important; I knew that if I could lead 5-1, at least if I didn't serve it out the first time, next time I will have new balls. I don't know how but I won this game... I had one lucky shot that helped me get another match point. It's cool, it's very special [to be in a final at home] - I'm really looking forward to it."
Earlier, Van Uytvanck had admitted that she had found her semifinal difficult mentally.
"I didn't feel super comfortable in the beginning, and I was pretty nervous," she said after her defeat of first-time semifinalist Cristian.
The pair racked up 75 unforced errors between them, 43 from Cristian and 32 from Van Uytvanck. But the Belgian benefited from superior serving and more positive starts to each set.
In both, she immediately captured the Cristian serve; though the World No.126 would battle hard to retrieve a break each time, Van Uytvanck never trailed in either stanza. Cristian would also be significantly undone by six double faults, including one in each of her second-set service games.
Like Putintseva, Van Uytvanck was unable to close out a 5-1 second-set lead at the first time of asking, with Cristian unleashing a forehand return to save a match point en route to breaking back. But the insurance break proved crucial: an excellent forehand pass sealed the win on Van Uytvanck's third match point two games later.
The 2021 Nur-Sultan final by the numbers
Yulia Putintseva in WTA finals
l. Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-4, St. Petersburg 2017 (indoor hard)
l. Wang Qiang 6-1, 6-2, Guangzhou 2018 (outdoor hard)
d. Tamara Zidansek 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, Nürnberg 2019 (clay)
d. Anhelina Kalinina 6-4, 6-0, Budapest 2021 (clay)
Alison Van Uytvanck in WTA finals
d. Timea Babos 5-7, 6-4, 6-1, Québec City 2017 (indoor carpet)
d. Dominika Cibulkova 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, Budapest 2018 (indoor hard)
d. Marketa Vondrousova 1-6, 7-5, 6-2, Budapest 2019 (indoor hard)
d. Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, Tashkent 2019 (outdoor hard)
2021 finalists on home soil
Ashleigh Barty (AUS), Yarra Valley Classic (W)
Daria Kasatkina (RUS), St. Petersburg (W)
Margarita Gasparyan (RUS), St. Petersburg (L)
Maria Camila Osorio Serrano (COL), Bogota (W)
Johanna Konta (GBR), Nottingham (W)
Angelique Kerber (GER), Bad Homburg (W)
Andrea Petkovic (GER), Hamburg (L)
Barbora Krejcikova (CZE), Prague (W)
Tereza Martincova (CZE), Prague (L)
Danielle Collins (USA), San Jose (W)
Yulia Putintseva (KAZ), Nur-Sultan (?)