DUBAI, UAE - There will be no three-peat for Elina Svitolina in Dubai.
For the second time in five matches this week, Belinda Bencic battled back from the brink of defeat, prevailing in a thrilling final set to stun the two-time defending champion and reach the final, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(3).
In a wild final set that lasted nearly as long as the first two combined, Bencic rallied from a 5-3 deficit by winning eight straight points, but ultimately needed to show her mettle after Svitolina staved off three chances for her to win the match in a dramatic 12th game.
The former World No.7 sealed the match in style from then on, as she won four of the last five points of the tiebreak to book a spot opposite another former Dubai champion, 2013 winner Petra Kvitova, in stunning fashion.
"I think from 3-5, I just completely [zoned] out. I think I was playing the same, even though I lost the match points. Somehow I was still focused, I don't know why," Bencic said.
"I had a big chance on the first match point. I went for too much. I think I did the right thing. I was doing the right thing. Basically, I stayed in the zone, even in tiebreak.
"I was barely breathing, just playing automatic. You are not thinking any more. It's where the instincts just guide you through it."
The Premier 5-level final is the biggest for Bencic since she won the Rogers Cup in 2015 and burst into the Top 10 as a teenager, but her second tour-level final since October.
"I haven't thought about Toronto at all in the last moments. It means of course a lot to be in the final, but you don't realize when you're playing that it's a Premier 5. Even if it's a 25,000 tournament, you're still the same. In the court, you're not thinking about all this," she said.
"I think I'm always the most proud of how I fight. Even when I lose, I learned myself to just look in the mirror and be proud of myself when I'm fighting, when I'm giving my all, when I'm trying to do what I have to do.
"I think I'll always be proud of that. I think that will be my number one goal always."
Bencic will need to beat her fourth Top 10 player of the week - just as she did in Toronto - in Kvitova should she want to raise the trophy in Dubai, having lost to the Czech in the third round of the Australian Open.
She added: "Of course, she's in great form. Maybe this tournament I'm also in great form. It will be a tough final. The final is always two great players. I'm very happy to play her."