A pair of straight-sets victories by top seed Simona Halep and No.2 seed Anett Kontaveit on Saturday set up a winner-take-all finale at the Transylvania Open.
After Kontaveit dropped just five games in the first semifinal against Sweden's Rebecca Peterson, home favorite Halep also needed just over an hour to secure a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Ukrainian teenager Marta Kostyuk. Halep has now reached a final in 12 consecutive seasons.
In a rematch of their second round match from the BNP Paribas Open three weeks ago, where Halep trailed by a break in the first set in an eventual 7-6(2), 6-1 victory, the former world No.1 was dominant from the start: she broke serve six times, saved the only break point she faced in her first service game of the match, and served at 71 percent.
That was an amazing display from the top seed! Simona Halep breezes past Marta Kostyuk 6-0, 6-1 and she gets into the big final in Cluj! @Simona_Halep keeps her streak going: she has now qualified for a @wta final in 12 consecutive seasons! 👏🏻 pic.twitter.com/Bxb0qR7bid— Transylvania Open (@TransylvaniaOpn) October 30, 2021
"I really wanted to play the final here. It's a home tournament and always when I come here, I feel great. I'm really happy, motivated and I'm looking forward to play the final tomorrow," Halep said on-court after the match.
"I knew that I had to play a little bit faster, more aggressive and to open the court a little bit more. There [at Indian Wells], she didn't miss very much as she did today, but I think I took the ball faster and quicker, and the serve helped me today."
Though both players struck a similar total of winners, with Halep hitting 10 and Kostyuk striking 11, the Ukrainian teenager racked up three times Halep's number of unforced errors: 38 to 12. The World No.55 won her lone game of the match with a service hold to start the second set, and saved three match points before succumbing.
Halep is bidding for her third career title on home soil, having won in Bucharest on clay in 2014 and 2016. It would be just her second title on hard courts in the past three years, and her first title overall since winning last year's rescheduled Internazionali BNL d'Italia in September.
"I'm just trying to give my best, trying to be aggressive and enjoy. When I smile inside, it looks better outside," Halep said. "I have the whole country with me when I play at home, so that's why I'm motivated, that's why I feel safe and strong on the court, and I always want to play my best.
"I won twice in Bucharest and, hopefully, tomorrow's the lucky three, but if not, it's still a good result and it's good to be home."
Kontaveit keeps WTA Finals hopes alive with semifinal win over Peterson
Meanwhile, Kontaveit's latest winning streak hit nine matches thanks to a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Sweden's Peterson. The 63-minute victory, the Estonian's 25th in her last 27 matches, put her into a fourth final in her last seven tournaments and sixth of the year overall.
"I've been feeling really good on the court, and today wasn't as easy as the scoreboard seemed. I really had to fight for it," Kontaveit said on-court after the match.
"Everything's been pretty automatic [for me] this week. I've been trying to get through each match as well as I can. I think I've been playing well, I've been playing aggressive, and my shots have a lot on them.
"Before the quarterfinals, in the second round, I was feeling my body a little bit but it's actually been getting a little bit better. I really have the motivation and I'm trying to do my best out here."
Broken just once in the match, Kontaveit lost just 13 points in nine service games, served seven aces and broke serve herself four times. She also hit 23 winners to Peterson's four.
"I knew it wasn't going to be easy because Rebecca is a good player. I really had to work hard for it today," Kontaveit told reporters after the match.
"I think I know Rebecca since we're like eight years old. We grew up playing together, similar tournaments. Her parents are actually Estonian so I know her family pretty well. We've always been pretty close."
Kontaveit stormed out of the gates in her first tour-level meeting against Peterson - the pair previously played in Billie Jean King Cup zonal competition two years ago - by winning the first five games with the loss of just seven points.
After saving a set point for a bagel, Peterson won three straight games - including her lone break in the match at 5-1 - before Kontaveit served out the set at her second opportunity.
A love break to start the second kept the No.2 seed in the lead for the duration, as she never faced break point in the set's four service games. After being pushed to deuce serving at 1-0, she lost just one point on serve from then on, and sealed victory with her third love hold of the match.
A victory in Sunday's final would also earn Kontaveit the eighth and final spot in the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara, surpassing Ons Jabeur. Neither woman has ever qualified for the WTA Finals, and Kontaveit is winless against Halep, having never won a set in three career meetings.
"I've really been focused on what I have to do, taking it match by match, and just not thinking ahead too much. I think that's the main thing that's helped me stay focused on each match and the task that I have," " Kontaveit said.
"It's physically not easy but I've been playing some good tennis and I'm really happy with the way I've managed to get through this week again. Just a lot to play for and I think it's something to really enjoy and go for.
"Simona's such a great player. I've lost to her a few times already, but I think that I'm playing more consistently, playing a little better. It'll be a tough battle."