MALLORCA, Spain - For the first time in nine months, Germany's Tatjana Maria will feature in a WTA semifinal, after the World No.79 outlasted No.7 seed Lucie Safarova at the Mallorca Open, 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4.
The German hadn't won back-to-back matches all season coming into this week in Mallorca, had already snapped a four-match losing skid with her first round upset over No.4 seed Anett Kontaveit in the first round.
The 30-year-old needed two hours and 35 minutes to spring her second upset of a seeded player in three matches on the Spanish grass, but the first career meeting between two veterans was finely poised for the duration of the quarterfinal encounter.
Parity was on display until the very end, as each player won 110 points in the match - but behind seven aces, a first-serve percentage of 70% and five of eight break points converted, Maria's baseline variety and hands at the net stood strong in the face of Safarova's baseline attack.
The Czech slugged 49 winners to 32 unforced errors, more than doubling Maria's winner total of 21, but only went 5-for-12 in break point opportunities.
"It was a really hard match because I knew she's a great player and can beat everybody," Maria said after the match. "I had to be ready from the very beginning...we were fighting until the end and I'm happy I could win it."
Despite seeing a 5-2 lead slip away in the opening set, Maria held on to largely control the tiebreak, and twice won three straight points en route to pocketing a one-set lead.
The second set went with serve for the first nine games until the 2014 Wimbledon semifinalist, who was at her aggressive best in a second-round win over former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka in the second round, engineered the lone break to send the match to a decider.
After a serve-dominated second set, it was Maria who held her nerve in a decider which saw five breaks overall, including four in the last five games, to move into her first semifinal since the Coupe Banque Nationale in Quebec City last September.
"I was playing good in practice already this year, and early on, I didn't have the results I wanted at the beginning of the year," Maria assessed. "I kept going and was super positive. I love playing on grass and I was hoping I can do aomething here."
Though the German No.3 is into just her second career WTA semifinal and has never reached a final, the 30-year-old will be the favorite in terms of experience in a match which will feature two players looking to break new ground.
Maria will take on semifinal debutant Sofia Kenin in the final four, after the 19-year-old American qualifier upset top seed Caroline Garcia earlier in the day.
"She's really young and she's playing really good tennis. We played already a few times at lower tournaments," Maria said. "It's not going to be easy at all so I have to be ready from the first point, but I'm looking forward to the semis."