Danish teenager Clara Tauson came back from the brink to make her third final of the year, as the No.5 seed saved five match points before overcoming No.3 seed Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, 4-6, 7-6(8), 6-4 in the semifinals of the inaugural Courmayeur Ladies Open.
The 18-year-old Tauson notched another indoor victory after 2 hours and 27 minutes of play. All three of her WTA singles finals have come on indoor hardcourts, and she is undefeated in those finals so far, winning her first two WTA singles titles in Lyon and Luxembourg this year.
Match stats: It was a hard-hitting affair between the players, with a combined 28 aces raining down: 16 from Samsonova, and 12 from Tauson. Tauson won a solid 77 percent of points behind her first serve, but that was bested by Samsonova, who won 84 percent of her first-service points.
With each player holding break point conversion rates of 4-for-7, the match was marked by the second-set tiebreak, in which Tauson fended off five match points as Samsonova's miscues came at an inopportune time. Samsonova finished the clash with 21 more winners than Tauson, but also 16 more unforced errors.
Comeback ᴄʟᴀʀᴀ 🇩🇰— wta (@WTA) October 30, 2021
A dramatic victory gives the 18-year-old a chance to fight for the title in Italy!#CourmayeurLadiesOpen pic.twitter.com/EeRMTxkCNk
Words from the winner: "I thought I was finished in the tiebreak, and I just tried to put the ball in the court because she’s such a big server," Tauson said on-court, after her win. "I was just trying to guess where she was serving at the end, and I don’t know what happened!
"She was serving so good, she was pushing me all the time, just hitting so hard, so I was always in the defense. As many know, I like to play offense, but sometimes you have to do what you gotta do."
Key moments: In the first set, World No.42 Samsonova used increasingly heavy returns to fight back to parity from 1-3 down, then converted her third break point of the 4-4 game with a forehand winner in the corner. Samsonova served out the opener at love, with a forehand winner and three thunderous aces.
The powerful pair settled the second set in a tiebreak, where outrageous groundstroke winners gave Samsonova a huge 6-2 lead and four match points. But World No.49 Tauson drew errors from the Russian and erased each and every one, reeling off five points in a row to reach set point at 7-6.
Samsonova staved off that set point with an ace, and went on to garner a fifth match point at 8-7. Tauson, though, swatted that one away as well, with an unreturned serve. The Dane grabbed a second set point at 9-8 with another strong serve, then stole the set after a wide Samsonova forehand.
In the third set, Tauson again let a 3-1 lead slip away, but the teenager successfully regrouped, reclaiming her break at 5-4 with a return winner down the line. Tauson then fired three consecutive aces to line up triple match point. Tauson needed only one, blasting a winner to complete the comeback win.
Her first final in over two years!@DonnaVekic will battle youngster Clara Tauson for the #CourmayeurLadiesOpen title 🏆 pic.twitter.com/h8rjiyny4R— wta (@WTA) October 30, 2021
Vekic dispatches home favorite Paolini
To go 3-for-3 in WTA finals, Tauson will have to defeat Donna Vekic in the championship match on Sunday. Former Top 20 player Vekic of Croatia dismissed No.7 seed Jasmine Paolini of Italy, 6-2, 6-0, in the second semifinal on Saturday.
Paolini had won their lone prior meeting earlier this season in Cincinnati qualifying, but it was a completely different story this time around as Vekic took just over an hour to eliminate the last remaining Italian in Courmayeur. Vekic has yet to drop a set this week.
"Maybe it looks easy by the score, but it was actually a really tough match," Vekic said on-court, after the match. "She’s a very tough player, she was making me play a lot of balls, also being aggressive."
Vekic was ranked World No.19 as recently as 2020 but has seen her ranking slide to its current position of 97th. Vekic had knee surgery in February and missed three months of action, and she came into this event with a 2021 win-loss record below .500.
But the Croat has shown up in style this week, making her first WTA singles final since her runner-up showing at 2019 Nottingham over two years ago. Vekic is now one win away from claiming her third WTA singles title, and her first since 2017, which also came on the grass of Nottingham.
A breezy opener was followed by an even more routine second set, where Vekic took charge for good with a return winner to break for 2-0. Three aces in the following game sped Vekic even further along, and though Paolini had four game points to get on the scoreboard at 5-0, Vekic held firm to collect the bagel.
Vekic's 22 winners doubled Paolini's total, as the Croat wrapped up the last nine games of the encounter to set up her first meeting with Tauson.
"I’m going to make a plan with my coach, and try to focus on my game and try to play my game," Vekic said. "Hopefully it will be good enough tomorrow."
Champs in Courmayeur!— wta (@WTA) October 30, 2021
🇨🇳 Chinese duo Saisai Zheng and Xinyu Wang claim the doubles title 🏆 pic.twitter.com/CVS6jrG8WT
Wang, Zheng claim doubles crown
The Courmayeur Ladies Open doubles title was also decided on Saturday, with the all-Chinese duo of Wang Xinyu and Zheng Saisai upsetting No.3 seeds Eri Hozumi of Japan and Zhang Shuai of China, 6-4, 3-6, [10-5].
Wang and Zheng needed an hour and 25 minutes to outlast the seeded pair and notch the trophy, in their second event as a team. They are 7-0 at all levels this year, having also won the doubles title at the WTA 125 event in Columbus, Ohio, in September.
Zheng, who has reached 12 WTA doubles finals in her career, now has five WTA doubles titles to her credit. This is her first tour-level doubles title since 2019, when she won in Acapulco partnering Victoria Azarenka.
Wang is now 2-0 in WTA doubles finals. She also triumphed on home soil at Nanchang in 2019 alongside her compatriot Zhu Lin.