Unseeded Marie Bouzkova and No.6 seed Sloane Stephens will square off for the Abierto Akron Zapopan title on Sunday night after advancing through their Saturday semifinals in Guadalajara.
Bouzkova of the Czech Republic stormed past former Top 15 player Wang Qiang of China 6-3, 6-3 to reach the third WTA singles final of her career. Bouzkova, a former Top 50 player currently ranked World No.96, took an hour and a half to quell the challenge from Wang.
"I was expecting a really tough match," Bouzkova said afterwards. "I was kind of prepared that we were going to have really long rallies. I know she’s a tough opponent, so I just tried to stay there the whole time, and I just played a good match in the end.
"It’s very special to be here in Guadalajara for my third final. I think I couldn’t wish for a better place to play it, and I’m just really excited for tomorrow."
144th-ranked Wang had won their sole previous meeting by the exact same 6-3, 6-3 scoreline on her home soil in Wuhan in 2019. But Bouzkova was able to level their head-to-head by firing 28 winners to just 13 unforced errors on Saturday night in Mexico.
Bouzkova went one better than her semifinal run in Guadalajara last year, where she lost to eventual champion and her good friend Sara Sorribes Tormo. This year, Bouzkova defeated Sorribes Tormo on Friday in a quarterfinal rematch.
Against Wang, Bouzkova crucially saved three break points to hold serve for 3-3 in the first set, two with aces. Bouzkova then used stellar returns to break Wang at love for 4-3. Bouzkova broke again for good measure in the last game of the set.
Wang leapt ahead by a break in the second set, but Bouzkova pulled back level at 3-3, and the Czech would not be stopped from there. All told, Bouzkova won the final five games of the match to sweep to the win.
For the third time, 2014 US Open junior singles champion Bouzkova is one win away from a maiden WTA singles title. She finished as a runner-up at Monterrey in 2020 and at the Phillip Island Trophy in Melbourne in 2021. All three of her career finals have come on hard court.
Earlier, Stephens of the United States had to stage a comeback before advancing to the final when Anna Kalinskaya of Russia retired from their semifinal clash due to a back injury. The final scoreline was 3-6, 7-5, ret.
World No.100 Kalinskaya had won their lone previous meeting in straight sets in the first round of the 2019 US Open. On Saturday night in Guadalajara, the Russian held a set and a double-break advantage as she aimed to repeat that feat over former US Open champion Stephens.
However, Kalinskaya struggled with her back as the second set progressed, while Stephens's play picked up and the American was able to charge back from her deficit. After dropping seven of the next nine games from 6-3, 3-0 up, Kalinskaya deemed herself unable to continue.
"I just tried to compete hard and fight for every point," Stephens said, after the match. "Obviously it was difficult because she was playing really well, and it was kind of an uphill battle for me the whole match. I’m just pleased to be able to string some points together and win that second set."
Former World No.3 Stephens books her 10th career WTA singles final, and her first final since the end of 2018, when she reached the championship match at the year-ending WTA Finals.
Stephens is aiming for her 7th career title, although after winning her first six finals in a row, she has gone 0-3 in her last three. But win or lose, Stephens is projected to return to the Top 50 of the WTA singles rankings, improving from her current ranking of No.57.
Bouzkova beat Stephens in their only prior encounter, a 6-2, 7-5 victory in the second round of 2019 Toronto. That was Bouzkova's breakthrough professional tournament, where she reached the semifinals of the WTA 1000 event as a qualifier.
"Sloane’s a great champion, I have a lot of respect for her," said Bouzkova. "[I'll] just try to play a good game tomorrow, have a good final, and just looking forward to it."