HOBART, Australia - Anna Karolina Schmiedlova is into her first WTA final in Australia after battling past former World No.7 Belinda Bencic in three sets at the Hobart International.
The 24-year-old Schmiedlova outlasted Bencic after a tough two-and-a-half-hour battle in swirling conditions, firing 42 winners to Bencic’s 26 to claim a 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-2 victory.
With the win, Schmiedlova moves into her fifth career WTA final, where she’s seeking her fourth title. She’s also hoping to become the first Slovak to lift the Hobart trophy since 2002 champion Martina Sucha.
“It feels so amazing to be in the final here,” Schmiedlova told press afterwards. “I still can’t believe it, because I was not expecting this at all.
“Especially tough today against Belinda - I’ve known her since I was a child, we practice together sometimes and she’s a really good friend of mine. So it wasn’t an easy match. She’s a great player, but it’s a really great feeling the way I played.”
Bencic will likely rue her missed opportunities from an error-strewn first set. The Swiss started the match on the front foot, earning two break chances right away in the first game, but wasn’t able to convert. Instead it was Schmiedlova who dialed up the heat to claim the first break at 4-2.
Bencic fought her way back from that deficit, pulling herself all the way back to 5-4. She was serving for the set but got broken to love as her frustration grew - along with her unforced error count.
Schmiedlova covered the court with confidence, playing solid tennis and forcing Bencic to go for the extra shot - teasing out the errors from the Swiss’ racquet. She bossed the tiebreak, allowing her opponent just two points as she snatched away the opening set.
Bencic played with more focus and intensity in the second set, and was rewarded right away with a 2-0 lead. The second-set finish line looked within reach as Bencic extended her lead to a daunting 5-1, claiming a double break - but she quickly found herself in familiar trouble as her emotions got the better of her, giving Schmiedlova an opening to attack.
With her back against the wall, Schmiedlova kept a cool head to erase both of Bencic’s breaks, reeling off four games in a row to put her within touching distance at 5-4. This time, however, Bencic managed to hold it together - aided by her opponent’s double faults - and edged through to take the second set, sending them into a decider.
The Slovak was tenacious in the third as Bencic seemed to lose her way, reeling off five games in a row to seal her spot in the Hobart final. In addition to outpacing her opponent’s winners 42-26, Schmiedlova kept her unforced errors contained to 49, while Bencic’s ballooned to 47. Schmiedlova also struck seven aces and won a solid 61% of first serves.
“I was very happy with the way I played in those last few games,” Schmiedlova said. “I think I improved a bit on my serve, and just tried to be focused on every point. I think that third set was really good, better than the first for me.”
Up next in the championship match, Schmiedlova awaits the winner between No.6 seed Alize Cornet from France or the fast-rising American Sofia Kenin.
“When I came to Hobart, I was not really happy about my game,” she said. “I lost in China, playing very bad, then I came here and it was really windy. I didn’t really play very well in practices, so I tried to just win maybe one match here or play one long match. To be in the final, I never expected it.”