PRAGUE, Czech Republic – Bernarda Pera claimed one of the biggest wins of her career as she eliminated No.3 seed Wang Qiang from the J&T Banka Prague Open, 6-0, 6-7(5), 6-3 and progressed to her second career WTA Tour semifinal.
The WTA World No.105 had only one Top 20 victory under her belt – Johanna Konta at the 2018 Australian Open – prior to meeting the highest-ranked player left in the draw yet played an impressive match against an opponent at a career-best WTA World No.16.
A mental blip in the second set was the only blot on an otherwise formidable display.
“I think I got a little tight, especially at 4-1. My forehand started to get short and she started dictating the point,” she admitted.
“This will definitely give me more confidence. She’s a great player and I feel great for getting through this match.”
It was barely six weeks ago that the Chinese recorded a 7-6(5), 6-2 victory over the American on the hard courts of Indian Wells, though on the dirt of Prague the story was dramatically different.
Pera spent much of the opening hour in inspired form, not dropping a game en route to the first set, moving 5-2 up in the second and even to within a point of victory on two occasions.
With a 2-10 record against left-handed opponents on Tour prior to this encounter, Wang was being forced out wide by the spin of her opponent’s apparently unerring forehand. In turn, she was forced to pop up short balls that were ruthlessly dispatched by an opponent in aggressive mood.
Pera was seeing the ball beautifully and showed no relent in her quality over the 27-minute duration of the first set. She hit 10 winners and forced 13 errors while making 71% of her first serve, dominating in every statistical category.
Indeed, it would be a full eight matches and 35 minutes before Wang was even able to haul herself onto the scoreboard. There would be no immediate turnaround, though, as Pera established a 5-2 advantage in the second, with the WTA World No.16 simply clinging on as best she could.
With the finishing line in sight, Pera began to stumble. Balls that were previously painting the line were flying an inch out, seeing her unforced error count of 18 match that of her winners for the set. Wang, meanwhile, became increasingly belligerent in her approach and fought back to level at 5-5 and 6-6.
Pera’s aggression had been tempered by her nerves and though she was still opening her shoulders in the tiebreak, her footwork was such that she was being stuck deeper in the court and, therefore, struggled to make the inroads she had managed previously. Wang took advantage to force a deciding set.
The turnaround offered the opportunity for the match to be reset, and Pera did just this by immediately taking the initiative. While she did not quite touch the heights she managed in the opener, her aggression and strong court position returned, leading to a fresh barrage of winners and another 5-2 advantage – this time with the added insurance of a double break.
Although Wang, who had won three-set matches already this week against Margarita Gasparyan and Mandy Minella, seemed to be suffering more physically, mentally she remained unflinching, pulling back one of the games.
With two hours and nine minutes on the clock, Pera finally managed to close out the match, bringing up her third match point with her 29th forehand winner. At last her opponent could not resist, firing wide
Standing between the American and a maiden WTA Tour final is either Karolina Muchova or Natalia Vikhlyanyseva, ranked WTA World No.106 and No.113 respectively.