NURNBERG, Germany - No.1 seed Yulia Putintseva kept her quest for a maiden title alive at the Nürnberger Versicherungscup, forging her way into her first final of the year with a 6-4, 7-5 defeat of the unseeded Sorana Cirstea in one hour and 51 minutes.
Less than 24 hours previously, the Kazakh had triumphed in a three-hour, 21-minute marathon over wildcard Anna-Lena Friedsam - the longest match of the year so far - but she showed no sign of any hangover in blunting Cirstea's power with a focused, varied performance today. The result avenges Putintseva's loss to the Romanian in the quarterfinals of this tournament in 2017, and edges her ahead 3-2 in the overall head-to-head. Having lost both of her previous Tour finals - St. Petersburg 2017 to Kristina Mladenovic and Guangzhou 2018 to Wang Qiang - the 24-year-old will be hoping that tomorrow's match against either No.2 seed Katerina Siniakova or Tamara Zidansek will be third time lucky.
Cirstea started brightly, hammering consecutive backhand winners down the line - but, responding in kind with two winners of her own from that wing, Putintseva immediately showed that she was not about to let herself get overpowered by her opponent's pace. Over the course of a narrowly contested opening set, the two-time Roland Garros quarterfinalist controlled her end of the court superbly, landing 73% of her first serves and never facing a break point, while soaking up Cirstea's firepower with impeccable defence and variety.
Time after time, Cirstea - who was bidding to make her first final since Toronto in 2013 - would hit out as hard as she could, only for Putintseva to reset the point by floating the ball back deep before showing off her superior courtcraft with brilliant angles and dropshots. Goaded into error, the 2008 Tashkent champion paid the price for a particularly loose seventh game, a wide forehand on the only break point of the set proving decisive.
A hard-fought second set saw the pair engage in a number of knife-edge multi-deuce tussles - but although Cirstea was sufficiently disciplined to begin holding her own in some longer rallies, it was Putintseva who consistently came up with the goods on big points, often reacting with multilingual exhortations.
As in the first set, Cirstea threw in an error-strewn service game to fall behind 2-3. Outmanoeuvring Cirstea with dropshots and lobs and going into lockdown mode on defence, Putintseva would also produce moments of magic such as the glorious sliced winner with which she consolidated the break.
But serving for the match, the Sydney quarterfinalist wobbled, losing her touch on the dropshot and the lob to face break points for the first time - and on the second, Cirstea seized her lifeline with a scorching forehand winner. However, the 19-year-old was unable to build on the slight momentum shift: Putintseva wasted no time in wresting back control, conjuring up brilliance on the pass and the lob to break right back. Serving for the match a second time, she made no mistake, closing victory out to love with a bold backhand winner on her first match point.