MOSCOW, Russia - Svetlana Kuznetsova kept up her chances of qualifying for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global by beating Elina Svitolina, 6-1, 6-7(2), 6-4, in Friday's Kremlin Cup semifinals.
The Russian must win the tournament to overtake WTA Most Improved Player of the Year Johanna Konta and secure a spot in Singapore.
After Svitolina started the match with a routine hold, the Ukrainian squandered three chances to move a break ahead and the Russian never looked back in the first set.
In the second set, however, the World No.15 provided much sterner opposition, breaking to love in the fifth game. Kuznetsova broke back immediately but once again fell behind a break in the very next game, despite saving two break points.
Svitolina tightened up when serving for the set, falling 0-40 behind in a flash. She saved all three but succumbed to the pressure on the fourth.
However, she was not left to rue her profligacy and she claimed a highly attritional tie-break convincingly after producing a series of excellent groundstrokes, with Kuznetsova making some untimely unforced errors.
Kuznetsova appeared to be tiring but soon stopped Svitolina's march. After a lengthy break before the decider, the top seed returned with renewed vigor, sending down a series of vicious shots to break in the opening game.
The 31-year-old saved two break points in the following game to consolidate her advantage but from there she was well on top and Svitolina was unable to get back in the match as Kuznetsova got her WTA-leading 20th three-set match win of 2016.
Kuznetsova has won 20 3-set matches in 2016. She won 17 3-set matches in 2014 and 2015 COMBINED https://t.co/kdPEISJspn
? Kevin Fischer (@Kfish_WTA) October 21, 2016
"I knew what I had to do but in the second set I stopped playing the 'right' tennis. I realized what was going on, I understood it was wrong but couldn't do anything about it. And I had to play three sets," Kuznetsova said in her post-match press conference.
Kuznetsova will face Daria Gavrilova in the final after she overcame Julia Goerges, 7-5, 6-1. Gavrilova, who was born in Moscow, received plenty of support from the Russian crowd, helping her through a rollercoaster first set and into the first final of her career.
"When I arrived in Hong Kong a few weeks ago, I didn't expect to be finishing the season so well," Gavrilova told wtatennis.com. "Playing here in Moscow I'm getting a lot of support - I have a lot of friends and family in the crowd - and even though I'm very tired this helped me come through the difficult moments in the match today.
"In the final I know Sveta will get a lot of support, but this is normal. It has been a great week and I am playing with no pressure so I will go out and play my game and see what happens."