SEOUL, South Korea - No.3 seed Karolina Muchova squeezed through a superb first set before accelerating to victory over No.8 seed Wang Yafan at the KEB Hana Bank Korea Open, striking 45 winners and triumphing 7-6(5), 6-4 to reach her second career final in two hours and two minutes.
The Czech No.5 is having a career-best season, having reached her maiden WTA final at home in Prague in May and following that up with a Grand Slam quarterfinal debut at Wimbledon - contributing to a 32-11 win-loss record in 2019 so far. Wang, too, has been hitting milestones this year, capturing her first title in Acapulco in February and reaching the fourth round of Miami a month later, but Seoul has marked something of a revival for the Chinese No.4 after winning only five out of 19 matches between April and this week.
The quality of the first encounter between the pair was top-class throughout the opening act, with both players showing off sleek shotmaking skills as Wang's smooth groundstrokes took on Muchova's variegated repertoire of spins and volleys. After six straight securely executed service holds to open the match, it was Wang who struck first in the finest passage of play. Three successive thrilling points found the 25-year-old boldly entering Muchova's comfort zone of the forecourt, with her risk paying off twice to grab the first break.
But Muchova, unsurprisingly, had yet more tricks up her sleeve. Rifling a well-disguised backhand winner and lofting a lob over Wang's head, the World No.45 carved out her own chance as her opponent attempted to serve out the set - and a double fault from Wang sealed it.
The ensuing tiebreak was as tightly contested as the set that had preceded it, but once again it was Muchova who was able to come up with touches of magic at the right points to keep edging ahead - a wonderfully angled half-volley pass, a bullet of a forehand return. Having posted a ratio of 26 winners to 13 unforced errors and landed 74% of her first serves, the Prague runner-up would eventually take the stanza as a Wang backhand went wide.
Thereafter, Muchova would go from strength to strength as Wang faded. The World No.58 would drop her first two service games of the second set from 40-15 and 40-30 up respectively, with Muchova mixing up power and brilliant touch at net to reel Wang in both times. Wang, who took an off-court medical timeout trailing 0-3, had an opportunity to get back into the match on returning to the court - but a one-two punch from Muchova fended off the break point as the 23-year-old built a 5-1 lead.
A last-minute charge from Wang added some drama to the dénouement as the Acapulco champion resisted four match points on her own serve - before taking advantage of Muchova's forehand going awry to reduce the deficit to 5-4. But the higher seed steadied herself when stepping up to serve for the win the second time around: more brilliant net play got her off to a fine start, and a backhand winner down the line sealed a love hold.
"My plan was to play aggressive and go for my shots," assessed Muchova afterwards. "I knew she's a very good player, moving well and barely making any mistakes - [in the first set] she played just great, she really didn't do mistakes. I played a lot of long rallies with her and I shouldn't have - she was better! But then I started to go more often to the volleys and ended the rallies earlier, and it paid off."
In Prague, Muchova was undone by fellow first-time finalist Jil Teichmann; in tomorrow's final, she'll have the chance to lift a WTA trophy for the first time against either No.2 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova or No.4 seed Magda Linette.