Wildcard Dayana Yastremska continued her remarkable run at the Open 6ème Sens - Métropole de Lyon, reaching the final after defeating No.2 seed Sorana Cirstea 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4 in 2 hours and 31 minutes. She will face No.8 seed Zhang Shuai, who ended the hopes of hometown heroine Caroline Garcia 6-2, 7-5 in 1 hour and 36 minutes.
Both players will be contesting their fifth career final, and first indoors. Yastremska's last title match was at Adelaide 2020, where she fell to Ashleigh Barty, and Zhang's was at Nottingham 2021, where she was runner-up to Johanna Konta. No.140-ranked Yastremska will be bidding for her fourth career trophy, and first since Strasbourg 2019; No.64-ranked Zhang is seeking her third Hologic WTA Tour title, and first since Guangzhou 2017.
Yastremska, 21, has endured a torrid past week after the Ukrainian was forced to flee the war in her home country of Ukraine, accompanied by younger sister Ivanna, 15, after spending two nights sheltering in an underground carpark. After her gritty victories in Lyon, she has spoken of her mixed emotions. But the former World No.21 was all smiles on court as she thanked the French crowd for helping her pull through a nail-biting first-time encounter.
"It was a really tough match," she said. "In the third set, when I had match points and I lost that game, I was a bit crazy. I thought, I'm done, I've lost, because I don't have any more power. And then everybody was supporting me, supporting me, and I felt like, you can do it.
"When I posted pictures on Instagram that I left my home, I got a lot of messages from French people and from all over the world. But when I arrived here, I didn't expect I would get that huge support."
Afterwards, Yastremska said that she was feeling mentally, rather than physically, tired.
"I read a lot of news every day," she told the press. "Sometimes during the night I get messages from groups with the news; sometimes I wake up and read what's going on, especially with my city. So I wouldn't say I sleep here really good. I wake up pretty tired in the morning.
"But maybe it's just my spirit that is pretty strong right now - that's why I think I can deal with everything. I'm Ukrainian, and Ukrainian people are very strong. You can see that now during the war. Maybe I'm also strong.
"Every win from now on goes to my country. Compared to what's going on, it has no big meaning."
As in previous matches this week, Yastremska's form was up-and-down - but she mostly saved her best shots for the most important moments. In the first set, having come from 4-1 down to get back on serve, she saved two set points serving at 5-6 with backhand winners. The ensuing tiebreak was narrowly contested, and Yastremska sealed it by slamming a return winner on her first set point.
Yastremska appeared to be racing towards victory as she built a 3-0 second-set lead, only for Cirstea to win six of the next seven games to level the match thanks to solid serving and a flow of Yastremska errors. A similar pattern repeated in the third set: Yastremska kept building leads, only for the 31-year-old to threaten to come back.
A tense climax saw Yastremska squander three match points serving at 5-3, serving a double fault on the second, and another to offer Cirstea a break point which the Romanian duly converted. But Yastremska found some excellent forehands in the next game, closing out her fourth match point by swatting a backhand winner off an ill-advised Cirstea dropshot attempt.
Earlier, Zhang, 33, turned in a watertight performance to deny Garcia a final appearance in front of her home fans. The Chinese player dropped just eight points behind her first serve, and saved two out of the three break points she faced.
Former World No.4 Garcia enjoyed a small purple patch in the second set, fending off four points to go down a double break and surging from 1-3 to 4-3. But despite this spell of swashbuckling forehands and volleys electrifying the crowd, it was just a brief reminder of the Frenchwoman's top form.
Zhang came up with a stellar pass to break again for 6-5, and converted her second match point as Garcia went long with a backhand.
Yastremska and Zhang have split two previous meetings, with Yastremska winning 7-5, 6-4 in the Hong Kong semifinals en route to her maiden title, and Zhang gaining a 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 revenge in the fourth round of Wimbledon 2019.