The Hamburg European Open final will be contested by a pair of first-time finalists at very different stages of their careers.
Wild card Noma Noha Akugue is competing in her first WTA main draw, and came through her semifinal 6-3, 6-3 against fellow 19-year-old Diana Shnaider in 1 hour and 18 minutes. She is the second player to reach the final on her WTA debut in as many weeks, following 19-year-old Budapest champion Maria Timofeeva last week.
No.7 seed Arantxa Rus, 32, is competing in her 126th WTA main draw, having made her debut 16 years ago at 's-Hertogenbosch 2007. The Dutchwoman outlasted Daria Saville 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 in 2 hours and 27 minutes to become the oldest first-time WTA finalist since 34-year-old Tzipora Obziler at Guangzhou 2007.
Rus survived a stellar opener set from Saville, who was playing the fourth tournament of her comeback from an ACL injury that had sidelined her for nine months. The Australian's drop shots and passes were on song in the first set, but Rus gradually found her range with her heavy forehand. As Rus turned the match into a physical grind, Saville faded in the third set.
The result is Rus's 25th victory in her past 28 matches. In the past two months, she has collected WTA 125 titles in La Bisbal d'Empordà and Contrexéville, as well as the ITF W40 title on home soil in The Hague. As a result, she is at a career-high of No.60 this week -- one spot above her previous peak of No.61, which she first set in 2012.
No.207-ranked Noha Akugue has thrilled the crowd at her hometown tournament with three-set comeback wins this week, but against erstwhile junior rival Shnaider she started sharply and barely put a foot wrong. The pair had only met once before at junior level, with Noha Akugue winning 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the second round of the Plovdiv Grade 1 tournament, and this time a maiden tour-level final was on the line for both.
Noha Akugue came up with 15 winners to Shnaider's 11, including a pair of deft defensive drop shots. However, her power was the bedrock of her game, and it was her flashy forehand that enabled her to survive break point and get over the line in the final game. Indeed, Noha Akugue was clutch throughout, saving all six break points she faced.
Shnaider also showcased some exciting shotmaking in her first tour-level semifinal, particularly at net, but was undone by seven double faults.
Noha Akugue becomes the first German player to reach a WTA final on home soil since Andrea Petkovic, who was runner-up to Elena-Gabriela Ruse at Hamburg 2021. Petkovic, who retired from the sport last year, was in the stands to cheer on Noha Akugue as she stormed to a memorable career milestone.
The final will be the first WTA final between two left-handed players since Prague 2018, when Petra Kvitova defeated Mihaela Buzarnescu 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.