Kaja Juvan of Slovenia pulled off a Top 10 win to reach her first Hologic WTA Tour final at the Internationaux de Strasbourg on Friday. Her reward will be a championship match showdown with three-time Grand Slam titlist Angelique Kerber.
Juvan, ranked No.81, took out top seed and 8th-ranked Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 7-5 in 1 hour and 26 minutes to book a spot in her first final. Juvan has not dropped a set all week.
With the win over Pliskova, Juvan now has two Top 10 victories in her career. The 21-year-old Juvan grabbed her first Top 10 win in January, when she defeated Aryna Sabalenka in Adelaide.
“This whole year, I feel like I’ve been so close to beating these players," Juvan said. "I was like, ‘OK, let’s go for it, let’s be aggressive, I can do it, I’m always so close.’ We prepared well, and I think I stuck to being aggressive and trying to make the points, not just waiting for her, and that worked at the end.
“I felt like I was really fast, and I felt really strong, so I wasn’t too worried if it’s going to go to the third set, if it’s going to be a long match. ... I relaxed and tried to stick to my plan, because I thought at the end it’s going to be worth it, no matter what happens."
Juvan powered through the first set before former World No.1 Pliskova battled back in the second set, surging from an early break down to keep things level through 5-5.
However, Juvan continued to slam winners throughout the second set, and she earned the critical break to lead 6-5. There, Juvan came back from a break point down to close out the match with a backhand winner.
Juvan will now face a second former World No.1 in a row, as Kerber advanced into her 32nd career WTA final after French hope Oceane Dodin retired from their semifinal. Kerber was leading 7-6(2), 1-0 when Dodin deemed herself unable to continue.
No.2 seed Kerber has posted her best clay-court showing in over six years, reaching her first clay-court final since she won the Stuttgart title on home soil in 2016.
Powerful Dodin, ranked No.94, was cracking huge returns with ease as she claimed an early 3-1 lead. However, Kerber found vintage down-the-line winners to get back on serve, eventually queuing up a first-set tiebreak.
A forehand winner gave Kerber a commanding 4-1 lead in the breaker, and she reached quadruple set point with a deft drop shot for 6-2. Dodin netted a forehand on the first set point to cede the opener to Kerber, and the Frenchwoman retired after being broken in the opening game of the second set.
Juvan will go into Saturday's final knowing she has defeated Kerber in their only previous encounter, and on clay to boot. Juvan knocked Kerber out in the first round of 2020 Roland Garros by the scoreline of 6-3, 6-3.