STRASBOURG, France - Daria Gavrilova knocked defending champion Caroline Garcia out of the Internationaux de Strasbourg in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2 on Friday to advance to her second career WTA final. She'll play fellow Aussie Samantha Stosur not only for her first career title, but also for Australian No.1.
"I'm really hungry to win a tournament," Gavrilova said, post-match. "I haven't won a WTA event before, and every tournament I play I try to go all the way."
The Australian had played a pair of marathon three-setters in three matches en route to the semifinals, but never faced a break point in a tidy 76-minute win, which gives her the opportunity to become the first new Aussie No.1 since Casey Dellacqua held the top spot in October of 2008.
"I had a pretty good head-to-head against [Garcia]. I think it's a very big advantage to me. I played well, served well, and really believed in what I could do and how I could hurt her [on court]. I had four wins against her, [coming in] and I think she still hasn't found a way to get me - I know how to use my weapons to beat her. It's a big mental game for both of us."
Gavrilova's impressive serve was a highlight in the first set, as she dropped just five points behind it in total, and made the Frenchwoman pay for her errors; to her credit, the Australian struck just two to go along with eight winners.
The No.7 seed was even more impressive on serve in the second set, surrendering just two points and landing 72 percent of her first deliveries, making a comeback effort for the defending champion all the more difficult.
After surrendering serve twice and falling behind 5-1, Garcia tried desperately to cling on to her crown and saved a match point to force Gavrilova to serve for the match - which she did a short while later to improve her head-to-head against the Frenchwoman to 5-0.
"I'm young and my body is pretty good!" Gavrilova said about her week so far. "I've got my whole team here, and I'm really lucky with the team that I have. I've recovered pretty well. I was just having a stretch, and it was nice to finish under two hours for once!"
Previously, the Australian was runner-up to Svetlana Kuznetsova at the Premier-level Kremlin Cup last fall.
There's more riding on the final than just her first career WTA title for Gavrilova - with a victory, she would surpass Samantha Stosur, who faces Peng Shuai in the day's second semifinal - as Australian No.1. Gavrilova trailed Stosur by 65 points in this week’s rankings, and with both through to the semifinals, a victory for Gavrilova would break the 2011 US Open champion's 450-week streak as their country's top player.
The last time the Australian No.1 title belonged to someone else was the week of Oct. 6, 2008, when Casey Dellacqua was No.48 - Stosur was No.52 that week.
"I want Sam to win, and it's actually a big one because whoever wins this tournament is going to be No.1 in Australia," Gavrilova said about the upcoming final. "[Peng] has been on tour for a long time, so I'm sure I'll get some vision and some tactical advice from my coaches [if I have to play her]."
Regardless of the result in the final, it's been a banner week for Australians in Strasbourg; Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty will contest the doubles final on Saturday against the top-seeded sister pairing of Chan Yung-jan and Chan Hao-ching.
"It's funny, it feels like we're in the Fed Cup environment," Gavrilova said. "We really do get along well, and we even went out to a few dinners together. It clicked here! We weren't focusing on, 'Oh, let's go and all of us make the finals or semis,' but we knew that we were all going."
Meanwhile, Stosur is rounding into form with good timing, as the 2011 US Open champion will be called to defend her run to the French Open semifinals.
The Aussie veteran improved her record against Peng Shuai to 8-1, holding off a late charge from the Chinese star to win, 7-6(0), 6-4.
Peng trailed 2-5 in the second set, only to break Stosur as she served for the match. Digging out of a tricky final game, the former World No.4 clinched victory after nearly two hours on court.
Stosur has held onto the Australian No.1 position for 450 straight weeks; even if she beats Gavrilova on Friday, it's likely the youngster will take it back after the two weeks on the terre battue. Trailing by 65 points at present, Gavrilova is defending just 10 points after falling in the first round of the French Open, while Stosur could cede up to 780 points.