TIANJIN, China - No.2 seed Caroline Garcia delivered a mostly focused performance to defeat No.5 seed Hsieh Su-Wei 6-3, 6-4 in one hour and 32 minutes and reach her first final of the season at the Tianjin Open.
Following No.1 seed Karolina Pliskova's earlier win over Timea Bacsinszky, the semifinal results mean that the top two Tianjin seeds will compete in the final for the first time in the tournament's history. For Garcia, the win marks the Frenchwoman's first final since completing the Asian double of back-to-back Wuhan and Beijing trophies last year - and maintains her dominance over the Chinese Taipei No.1, having now triumphed in all of their four encounters.
Garcia stormed out of the blocks, firing three fizzing winners in the opening game to break her opponent. When Hsieh responded immediately with some canny net play and a pinpoint lob to break back, it seemed as though the match could become an epic battle, à la the pair's previous two meetings at Roland Garros in 2017 and Mallorca this year.
The first six games were indeed evenly contested, with both players coming through tight service games unscathed. Garcia's backhand was particularly impressive, while Hsieh was able to construct a number of clever points that she could finish off with down-the-line winners.
But the 32-year-old lapsed into error in the seventh game, with two loose forehand mistakes and a first double fault handing Garcia opportunity - which she took eagerly with a backhand return winner. Increasingly, it became apparent that Hsieh's usual touch was missing from her game: lobs from the Hiroshima champion landed long, and her dropshots limped uncharacteristically into the net. At the start of the second set, Hsieh attempted a trademark dinked smash, only for the ball to drop to the ground in front of her.
By contrast, Garcia's finesse was on point as the World No.16 came up with angled volleys and feathery dropshots that even the speedy Hsieh was unable to chase down. Increasingly errant from the baseline, the Auckland, Rabat and Seoul semifinalist was broken a second time to go down by a set.
Matters didn't improve much for Hsieh in the second set as Garcia stormed to a 5-1 lead, winning 16 out of 20 points from 1-1 to do so. Between Garcia's rampant power and touch and Hsieh's own inability to maintain accuracy off the ground, the World No.30 was unable to get anything going - and offering up a fourth and fifth double fault to get broken for the fourth time in the match didn't help.
With the finishing line in sight, though, matters took a turn for the dramatic. All of a sudden, Hsieh was able to find the angles and lines that had eluded her for the past hour, firing a series of brilliant winners past a rattled Garcia. Meanwhile, some untimely and wild errors from the 24-year-old saw her lead ebb away, striking a wild smash and netted forehand to fail in serving the match out for a second time.
But with the score back on serve and all the momentum with Hsieh, the veteran was unable to take advantage. A brilliant cat-and-mouse point gave Hsieh the chance to level at 5-5, but it was Garcia who managed to hit through her nerves to close the door on the comeback. A huge off forehand staved off that game point, and the former World No.4 would manage to belatedly seal the match with a careful volley on her second match point.