HOBART, Australia - Unseeded Sofia Kenin has reached her maiden WTA Tour final at the Hobart International, coming from a break down in the second set to defeat No.6 seed Alizé Cornet 6-2, 6-4 in one hour and 19 minutes.
The win avenged the American's loss to Cornet in their only previous encounter, 6-1, 6-3 in Cincinnati qualifying last August. Kenin, who was playing her third WTA semifinal following Mallorca and Québec City last year, is yet to drop a set this week; Cornet was her third seeded victim after upsets of No.1 seed Caroline Garcia in the first round and No.7 seed Kirsten Flipkens in the quarterfinals.
With both players struggling in gusty conditions, it was Kenin who managed to maintain a better balance between control and aggression in the first set. A brilliant forehand crosscourt winner paved the way to a first break, which Cornet coughed up with two double faults in the third game of the match; four games later, an emphatic smash sealed the double break.
Crucial, too, were Kenin's service numbers. The 20-year-old got a superb 81% of her first serves in play during the opening set - with clutch serving saving a brace of break-back points to hold for 4-2 - and 77% over the course of the day. She closed out the opening act with aplomb, winning a wonderful cat-and-mouse rally on her first set point by coolly slotting a forehand pass past a flat-footed Cornet.
In a bid to claw her way back into the match, the Frenchwoman began to throw every bit of junk in her repertoire at Kenin, dragging the younger player into net with forehand slices and disrupting her rhythm with changes of pace off the ground. It paid off initially as Cornet leapt out to a 3-0 lead in the second set.
But the fourth game would be crucial. Having appeared to be cruising at 40-0, Kenin was dragged back to deuce - and with Cornet competing ferociously, losing serve from that position might have been the nail in the coffin of the set for the World No.56.
However, Kenin clung on to that hold thanks to some clutch backhand strikes - and, having belatedly got off the mark in the second set, moved up another level, dropping just six points in the subsequent four games to break Cornet twice and move to a 5-3 lead.
In the face of Kenin's surge, 2016 Hobart champion Cornet was unable to find the consistency she needed to hold off her opponent. With her forehand particularly prone to unexpected shanks, the World No.47 racked up 26 unforced errors - an even 13 in each set - to just 11 winners.
Though Cornet halted the five-game streak against her to hold and force Kenin to serve the match out, the American was able to do so with ease, sealing a spot in tomorrow's final against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova with yet another unreturnable serve.