DUBAI, UAE -Daria Kasatkina survived three match points to reach the final of the Dubai Duty Free Shopping Tennis Championships, defeating WTA World No.3 Garbiñe Muguruza 3-6, 7-6(11), 6-1.
Having won her first round match against Johanna Konta by saving two match points, the 20-year-old Russian has specialised in coming back from the brink this week. In doing so against the No.2 seed, she claimed her first ever win versus the Spaniard and continued an excellent run of form against top five players, winning five of her last eight meetings.
"I've no idea how I keep doing this," she said when asked about her ability to save match points. "I don't know, really!"
Indeed, there was little suggestion of an upset for much of this meeting, with 24-year-old Muguruza dominating the opening set and twice going a break up in the second before having multiple chances to take the match in a tiebreak.
A combination of athleticism and determination, however, allowed the 20-year-old Russian to fight back and secure a first final of 2018.
The complexion of the first set might have been very different if Kasatkina had been successful in converting one of the four break points she manufactured in the opening game. Muguruza was left hanging on during a seven-minute examination that she struggled to pass.
There would otherwise be few hints of a break during a first set. Although the Spaniard offered the greater penetration on her groundstrokes, she was rarely able to manufacture opportunities when her opponent was serving.
But one break point was all that the second seed required to claim the first set. Kasatkina lapsed temporarily, failing to get her shots deep enough in the court, and the 24-year-old opponent pounced.
Muguruza, who served 78% of her first serves in during the opening set and hit eight winners to her opponents’ two, comfortably went on to take advantage.
Contrary to the first set, the threat of a breakthrough in the second was evident from the beginning. Muruguza started with greater intent, forcing Kasatkina to use her athleticism to uncomfortably hold serve in her first three games, and even if this failed to bring a break point, those finally arrived in the set’s seventh game. Four were saved, but at the fifth attempt the Spaniard had her prize.
Having worked so hard to get her nose in front, she suffered a lapse from out of the blue, immediately gifting the break away to love. She responded by going 0-40 up but again Kastakina showed incredible resolve to reel her opponent in. However, on her sixth chance of the game, Muguruza pounced on a short second serve to crush a winner.
Kasatakina continued to reserve her best tennis for the most important moments and threatened another twist as she moved 15-40 up. A perfect serve down the ‘T’ helped Muguruza claw back to deuce, but a double fault then a wide backhand squared matters again.
After four successive breaks, both players held to ensure a tiebreak, which started badly for Kasatkina as she double faulted, only to get the mini break back following a monstrous 38-stroke rally. It proved to be a thoroughly engrossing deciding game, with numerous thrilling rallies, with both players failing to convert chances to take the set.
On one occasion, Kasatkina was forced to challenge a call of out in order to stay alive in the match, with Hawkeye dramatically revealing her shot had clipped the back of the line.
"I thought it was long, I was lucky," she admitted.
Having saved three match points, though, it was Kasatkina who prevailed.
The sloppy errors that Muguruza made with increasing regularity at the tail end of the second set continued into the third. Looking fatigued and rather disheartened, she dropped served in the first game and then did so again as Kasatkina looked increasingly powerful.
With a shade over two and a half hour played, the Russian broke her rival for a third time to claim a dramatic victory.
"The best thing about it is you don't have to think at all," she said regarding the intensity of the game she played. "You don't think, you just enjoy."
Angelique Kerber or top seed Elina Svitolina now await in the final.