TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- It will be an all-Russian affair in the championship match at the 2018 Tashkent Open, as compatriots and doubles partners Anastasia Potapova and Margarita Gasparyan took divergent paths to advance to the final in the Uzbek capital city on Friday.
17-year-old qualifier Potapova had almost no trouble dispatching Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine in the first semifinal of the day, needing only 56 minutes to win 6-2, 6-3, and move into to her second final of the year, following her runner-up finish at the Moscow River Cup over the summer.
Gasparyan won the second semifinal in a much different fashion, outlasting former Top 25 player Mona Barthel of Germany, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, in a tense two-hour tussle. Gasparyan claimed her third straight three-set victory of the event to reach her first WTA final since her title-winning run in Baku in 2015. The 24-year-old Russian is in the event on a protected ranking having missed most of 2017 due to injuries.
Potapova and Gasparyan will team up for their doubles semifinal later on Friday against top-seeded Romanians Irina-Camelia Begu and Raluca Olaru. Their only prior professional singles meeting was in the first round of a Challenger event in Khimki, Russia, earlier this year, which Potapova won, 6-4, 7-6(5).
Potapova moved through her semifinal against Kozlova with ease. Aside from a blip at the start of the second set, the qualifier was at top form throughout, finishing the match with 23 winners to only 14 unforced errors. Kozlova had 14 winners but also fired 18 unforced errors during the clash.
The Russian teenager swiftly raced through the opening frame, overpowering Kozlova with her forehand to reach 3-2, then claiming the initial break to lead 4-2 by closing out that game with a backhand winner down the line. Potapova reeled off the final four games of the set to clinch the lead, having won 13 of 14 points when she got her first serve into play.
The second set was more competitive at the outset, as Potapova double faulted twice in the opening game to drop serve for the first time. Kozlova mixed in drop shots en route to a 3-2 lead, but, once more, Potapova went on a tear to close out the victory, taking the final four games and ending the match with one final forehand winner.
"I got up early today and was waiting to go, I wanted to win badly today," Potapova told the Tashkent Open media, after the match. "I felt very confident from the beginning. I was a little shaky midway but managed to get past [Kozlova]."
In the later semifinal, Gasparyan and Barthel rolled through their service games in the first set up to 5-4, before Gasparyan was the first to falter. The Russian dropped serve from 40-15 up after Barthel blasted a backhand winner to reach set point, followed by a forehand error from Gasparyan to end the set. Barthel won 100 percent of the points when she got her first serve in play up to that juncture.
However, the second set was all Gasparyan's, as Barthel dissolved into a flurry of 14 unforced errors during that timeframe. Powerful returning gave the Russian an immediate 3-0, double-break lead, and she zoomed through the set from there to tie up the match at one set apiece.
Gasparyan kept the momentum in the decider, punching a volley winner to clinch the first break at 3-1, then dominating with her forehand to hold for 4-1. But Barthel recovered, using her backhand to pull back on serve at 4-3. Then, at 4-4, the German broke Gasparyan from 40-0 up with excellent returning, winning a fourth game in a row and queuing up a chance to serve out the match at 5-4.
But two double faults by Barthel put her quickly behind in that game, and Gasparyan broke back for 5-5 with a forehand winner. The Russian then saved two break points with confident, aggressive play to hold for 6-5. Gasparyan closed out the victory by ending a rally with a backhand crosscourt winner in the subsequent game, reaching her first WTA final in over three years.
"It's a very special moment for me, coming out of my injury and reaching the final after two years," Gasparyan told the Tashkent media. "I'm looking forward for the finals and it will be an interesting match."
"I played well in the second set and midway till the third set," Gasparyan continued. "I think I rushed too much to finish the match, but Mona really came back well and put pressure on me, especially when she lead 5-4 on serve. But I guess I made the most of her mistakes, and very happy to have made the final. It was very important for me and I'm thrilled."