Caroline Dolehide, the WTA Tour’s No.111-ranked player, advanced to the Guadalajara Open AKRON final Friday, defeating Sofia Kenin 7-5, 6-3.
How to put this extraordinary run in some sort of perspective?
It’s the first career singles final at the WTA Tour level for the 25-year-old American -- and this is a 1000-level event. It was her fifth consecutive win, another personal WTA first.
In the 14 years since the format was instituted, Dolehide is only the second player ranked outside the Top 100 to reach a WTA 1000 final since Svetlana Kuznetsova -- who happened to be a two-time major singles champion. Coming into this year, Dolehide had four victories over Top 100 players, a total she’s equaled in a blur of five days.
- Dolehide soars past Kenin in Guadalajara, into first WTA final
- No.2 seed Sakkari storms into second straight Guadalajara final
Oh, and did we mention that Dolehide also reached the doubles semifinal with partner Asia Muhammad? It’s been that kind of surreal week for Dolehide, but it’s not over.
Saturday’s final (3:30 p.m. local time) will provide another daunting obstacle when she meets No.2 seed Maria Sakkari, a 6-3 6-0 winner over No.3 Caroline Garcia.
It’s the second straight Guadalajara final for Sakkari, who fell to Jessica Pegula a year ago in straight sets. This easily would be the biggest title of her career.
Dolehide and Sakkari have never played.
“Honestly, I’ve been so in the present -- it feels amazing,” Dolehide said after the win over Kenin. “I’m so excited for tomorrow, but I have doubles coming up. I’m really focused on that. Obviously, I’m really proud of myself, getting that win today because Sonia is not an easy player to get by.
“I played very smart after being down a break in both sets today. I found what was working and I stuck with it.”
In Guadalajara, where the thin, high altitude agrees with her flat, powerful strokes, Sakkari has mastered that formula. She has yet to drop a set, the first time that’s happened in any of her three runs to a WTA 1000 final.
With the win over Garcia, Sakkari reversed a few troubling trends. Garcia won the first three matches against the 28-year-old from Greece, but Sakkari has won the two matches they’ve played this year. Heading into this one, Sakkari was a disappointing 6-7 this year against players ranked in the Top 20, losing most recently to Coco Gauff and Karolina Muchova, in Washington and Cincinnati, respectively.
This is Sakkari’s third WTA 1000 final, following Indian Wells and Guadalajara a year ago. She’s already moved into contention to qualify for the race to the WTA Finals in Cancun and a win would place her on the bubble at No.9.
Against Garcia, Sakkari saved all four break points and converted four of six.
This is a week that, regardless of the outcome, will change Dolehide’s life. By reaching the finals, she’s guaranteed herself a spot in the Top 50. A win would vault her into the Top 30 -- that’s what’s possible with an unlikely personal best in a WTA 1000 event.
Think about this: Coming into Guadalajara, Dolehide had won only two WTA 1000 matches, the most recent coming five years ago in the second round at Indian Wells. After losing in the first round of the US Open and the first round of qualifying in San Diego, she’s now won five in Mexico. Dolehide has upset No.43 Peyton Stearns, No.20 Ekaterina Alexandrova, No.54 Martina Trevisan and No. 53 Kenin.
And it’s not just that she’s winning, it’s how she’s doing it.
Dolehide lost a first-set tiebreak to Stearns in the first round -- and won two tiebreaks to advance. In the quarterfinals, she saved four match points against Trevisan. Trailing Kenin in the first set, she won five of the last six games. Down 3-1 in the second, Dolehide won five straight.
Now the question is, can she keep that momentum going against Sakkari?