THE BRONX, NY, USA - Qualifier Magda Linette delivered a poised performance to dispatch No.5 seed Katerina Siniakova 7-6(3), 6-2 in one hour and 30 minutes to make her second career final at the NYJTL Bronx Open.
Though an upset on paper, it was in fact the Pole who came into today's match with a 2-0 head-to-head advantage. The first of those meetings was all the way back in 2012, in an ITF $10,000 event in Prague, when Linette defeated a 16-year-old Siniakova in the latter's second ever pro event en route to winning the title - but a 2017 meeting in Wuhan, with both players now established on the WTA Tour, would also go her way. That result would fit into Linette's career pattern of notching up her finest results in Asia: until this week, all five of the 27-year-old's WTA semifinals had come on that continent, including her sole previous final in Tokyo in 2015.
Today, though, Linette carried her Asian form over to the USA in fine style. All week, her matches have been characterised by her clutch play in navigating narrowly contested matches: in the final round of qualifying, the World No.80 squeezed past Anna Blinkova 7-6(6), 7-6(9), and in the quarterfinals she was victorious in the longest match of the event so far, a two-hour, 47-minute epic upset of No.10 seed Karolina Muchova 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(3). Against a battling Siniakova, whose trademark tenacity never let up, Linette would continually find her leads threatened - but throughout the match, she would manage to hold off any real momentum shift by coming up with cool-headed point construction and big serves when she needed to.
Following an early exchange of breaks, strong serving saw both players unthreatened behind their delivery - until the climax of the first set. Volleying with aplomb, Siniakova broke for 5-4 - only for Linette to hit back with a series of marvellous forehand angles to level at 5-5, before saving two break points to move up 6-5.
Now in the driver's seat, the Hua Hin semifinalist would carve out four set points on Siniakova's serve - only for the Czech to come up with her best tennis to save each one. But, displaying no reaction to the missed opportunities either in demeanour or play, Linette got back down to business in the ensuing tiebreak. Dominating the run of play as Siniakova lost control of her forehand, a bruising backhand eventually sealed the first frame for Linette on her sixth set point.
Having eked out such a tight opening act, an increasingly confident Linette went from strength to strength as she pulled away in the second set: two more brilliant backhands sealed an immediate break of the Siniakova serve.
The former World No.55 was simply more solid for the remainder of the match compared to the more mercurial Siniakova. The latter sent down five aces en route to some of the most emphatic love holds of the match - but was more prone to throwing in ill-timed double faults and groundstroke errors, both of which handed the double break to Linette in the seventh game.
By contrast, Linette would withstand the pressure of her opponent's variety and scampering defence to post four holds to 30 to maintain her second set lead, targeting the wobblier Siniakova forehand relentlessly - a tactic that paid off with two consecutive errors from that wing on the final two points of the match.
Linette is the fifth qualifier to reach a WTA final in 2019 so far, following Bianca Andreescu in Auckland, Jil Teichmann in Prague, Patricia Maria Tig in Bucharest and Katarzyna Kawa in Jurmala. Only Teichmann went all the way to take the title; Linette will be hoping to join the Swiss player as a maiden champion when she faces either No.1 seed Wang Qiang or Camila Giorgi tomorrow.