BASTAD, Sweden - Misaki Doi dealt out a solid, aggressive performance to outclass No.8 seed Aleksandra Krunic 6-1, 7-5 in the semifinals of the Swedish Open, setting up a title clash with fellow unseeded player Danka Kovinic tomorrow.
The result moves the Japanese No.3 into her biggest final since 2016, when she was runner-up in Kaohsiung to Venus Williams and won the San Antonio 125K, defeating Anna-Lena Friedsam in the final. That year, Doi would also reach the fourth round of Wimbledon and hit a career high of World No.30 in October - but an extended slump saw her sink to World No.328 by June last year. Since then, the 2015 Luxembourg champion has been steadily rebuilding her ranking, briefly returning to the Top 100 in April - and reaching her first clay-court final at any level in her career will be a significant boost.
Doi, who scored her third consecutive upset of a seeded player after beating No.7 seed Elena Rybakina in the second round and No.4 seed Mona Barthel in the quarterfinals, was sharper in every department through a set-and-a-half. The left-hander combined aggression on return with solid serving that set up numerous one-two punches to dominate the run of play, while an error-prone Krunic failed to hold serve once in the first set.
Indeed, the Serb only managed to get on the board thanks to a titanic five-deuce tussle in the fifth game, converting her sixth break point with a backhand crosscourt winner - but a pinpoint lob and stellar defence from Doi swiftly regained the advantage for the World No.117.
A fierce backhand return sealed the first break for Doi in the second set, and at 6-1, 4-2 up the 28-year-old appeared to be cruising. But with Krunic's back to the wall, the 2018 's-Hertogenbosch champion belatedly found her range on her forehand, blitzing a series of winners to break back and take a 5-4 lead. With a 0-30 lead on the Doi serve and with all the momentum, Krunic found herself two points from levelling at a set all - but a shanked forehand would halt the World No.113's run abruptly.
Striking out with some impressive big hitting from her forehand wing, Doi extricated herself from that game, and thence proved steadier at the business end of the set to reel off the last three games, sealing victory after Krunic sent a backhand wide on her second match point.
In the final, Doi will meet Montenegro's Danka Kovinic, herself a former Top 50 player who is also in her biggest final since 2016. The World No.162, who was twice a WTA runner-up at Tianjin in 2015 (to Agnieszka Radwanska) and Istanbul in 2016 (to Cagla Buyukakcay), came from a set down to defeat the unseeded Polish World No.231 Katarzyna Kawa 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, dominating proceedings with heavy groundstrokes throughout the deciding set.