Wang Xiyu notched a significant milestone in front of her home fans on Friday at the Galaxy Holding Group Guangzhou Open, defeating No.7 seed Greet Minnen 6-3, 6-4 in 1 hour and 29 minutes to reach her first career tour-level final.
The Chinese 22-year-old will play Magda Linette for the title after the No.1 seed advanced 6-2, 6-3 past Yulia Putintseva in 1 hour and 16 minutes. The result put Linette into her sixth career final, and first since Chennai 2022; she will bid for her third title, and first since Hua Hin 2020. Linette's only previous meeting with Wang came during her Hua Hin title run, a 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 quarterfinal win.
Wang had previously reached one WTA 125 final, falling to compatriot Zheng Qinwen at Valencia 2022, but lost all three tour-level semifinals she had previously contested. Touching down on home soil has given her season a much-needed boost: before this week, Wang's tour-level record in 2023 was 11-21, and she had not made the quarterfinals of any tournament above ITF level.
Wang becomes the seventh home finalist in tournament history, and will aim to become the sixth home champion in Guangzhou. Previously, Li Na won the inaugural edition in 2004 and was followed by Yan Zi (2005), Zhang Shuai (2013 and 2017) and Wang Qiang (2018), while Peng Shuai was runner-up to Vera Zvonareva in 2008.
Wang is the 16th player to reach her first WTA final in 2023. Seven have gone on to win the title: Zhu Lin in Hua Hin, Alycia Parks in Lyon, Marta Kostyuk in Austin, Katie Boulter in Nottingham, Maria Timofeeva in Budapest, Arantxa Rus in Hamburg and Ashlyn Krueger in Osaka.
Wang holds off Minnen's tactical adjustments
Both players had ample opportunities early on in the match, as five of the first six games featured break points. Wang's superior weight of shot enabled her to come out on top of this passage of play: from 2-2 in the first set, she reeled off eight of the next nine games, threatening to run away with the second set as Minnen lapsed into error.
With her back to the wall, the Belgian -- who was also bidding to make her first final -- deployed a canny tactical adjustment that very nearly turned the match around for her. Minnen began serve-and-volleying repeatedly, and found success almost every time despite having to pull off a number of difficult plays.
A rattled Wang lost one of her break advantages, but steadied herself to preserve the other. She made no mistake serving out the match, slamming down a third ace -- and 20th winner -- to convert her first match point.
Linette asserts authority against frequent rival Putintseva
This was the ninth time Linette and Putintseva had faced each other in a rivalry stretching back to 2015, and the deepest in a tournament they had played. But though Putintseva had taken their most recent meeting in Bilie Jean King Cup Qualifiers this year on clay, Linette has historically had the hard-court advantage. She extended her overall head-to-head lead over the Kazakh to 6-3, now including 4-1 on hard courts.
The 31-year-old was the less aggressive player out of the blocks. Linette built a 4-2 lead before hitting her first winner -- but once she found her offensive game, she never looked back, painting the lines repeatedly with her forehand. Both players tallied 13 winners, but while Linette kept her unforced error count to 14, that sort of consistency eluded Putintseva throughout. The increasingly frustrated World No.81 leaked 26 unforced errors in total, and was unable to convert triple break point -- her only three of the match -- in the second game of the second set.
Though Wang is the player seeking a title on home soil, this tournament is also a homecoming of sorts for Linette. The Australian Open semifinalist trained in Guangzhou between 2014-18, is thoroughly familiar with her surroundings -- and was even able to sing a line of a Chinese song to round off her on-court interview.