NURNBERG, Germany -- No.1 seed Yulia Putintseva needed to win the longest match of the 2019 WTA season to date in order to move another step closer to her first-ever WTA singles title, as the Kazakh outlasted wild card Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany, 7-5, 6-7(5), 7-6(2), in the quarterfinals of the Nurnberger Versicherungscup on Thursday .
"The match was definitely huge," Putintseva told the media, after the match. "I was just trying to fight until the end, trying to focus and try to win every point that I can, and I think in the end that’s what helped me to win."
World No.39 Putintseva, twice a French Open quarterfinalist in the last three years, was pushed to three grueling sets by Friedsam before emerging triumphant after three hours and 21 minutes of back-and-forth action. Putintseva was able to eke out the win after saving five of eight break points against her in the clash decided by a whisker-thin margin.
Nevertheless, the marathon finished an outstanding week for World No.523 Friedsam, who has been beset with numerous injuries over the last three years, but still exhibited the form which brought her into the Top 50 in 2016.
Putintseva will take on Sorana Cirstea of Romania in the final four at Nurnberg. Cirstea overcame Serbian qualifier Nina Stojanovic earlier on Thursday, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, as the Romanian reached the semifinals at the Nurnberger Versicherungscup for the second time in the last three years.
"I think it’s going to be another tough battle since Sorana is always fighting until the end, trying to give her best," said Putintseva. Putintseva and Cirstea have split their four previous meetings. Cirstea won their 2017 quarterfinal match at Nurnberg.
Putintseva claimed the first service break of the match at 3-2, as the top seed maneuvered through a three-deuce game before converting her third break point after a long forehand by Friedsam. The Kazakh, who was flummoxing Friedsam when she deployed dropshots at that stage, consolidated with a love hold for 4-2.
Friedsam, however, went on a three-game run from there. The German won numerous lengthy rallies to get back on serve at 4-4, taking that game on her third break point. After Friedsam held for 5-4, she held two set points on Putintseva’s serve, but the fiery Kazakh saved them with a magical dropshot and a strong serve respectively, and the top seed held for 5-5.
Putintseva, spurred on by her escape, took initiative in the following game, drawing errors from Friedsam to reclaim her break advantage at 6-5. Serving for the one-set lead, the Kazakh closed out the set with a stirring forehand winner down the line.
Putintseva carried over momentum from the opener, taking an early lead in the second set after Friedsam double faulted to drop serve at 1-1, and consolidating that break to open up a 3-1 lead. But the Kazakh was unable to retain that advantage, as Friedsam fired groundstroke winners to break back for 3-3, sealing that game with a winning backhand.
Friedsam saved two break points at 4-4 as the combatants advanced to the tiebreak. The German claimed the crucial point in the tiebreak when she punched a volley winner to go up 6-4, garnering two set points. Putintseva saved the first with a forehand winner down the line, but another winning volley earned Friedsam the 68-minute set, leveling the match.
In the deciding set, Putintseva earned an early break, leading 2-0, before Friedsam roared back with big-hitting from the backhand side in the subsequent game to get back on serve. Neither player faced a break point from that juncture forward until 5-5, when Putintseva fended off a chance for Friedsam, after the German pushed a forehand into the net.
Friedsam then powered through a difficult service game to reach 6-6, firing a forehand winner to set up the decisive tiebreak, as the tilt approached its status as the longest match of the year through the first five months of 2019. The clock struck 3 hours and 18 minutes during the tiebreak, sealing its spot at the top of the list.
The decisive tiebreak itself, however, was not particularly close, as Putintseva used great groundstrokes from both wings to power her way to a quick 4-0 lead. A netted backhand by Friedsam gave Putintseva four match points at 6-2, and the Kazakh only needed one chance to finish off the match, dropping her racquet in relief after she clinched the protracted victory.