BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Defending champion and No.1 seed Alison van Uytvanck of Belgium pulled off a marvelous comeback victory in the Hungarian Ladies Open semifinals on Saturday, recovering from a break down in the final set and saving five match points to outlast No.5 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(7).
“My coach [Kirsten Flipkens] came down on court, and she was like, ‘Okay, you were down 5-2 against Zvonareva, and you beat her 7-5, what do you think? Let’s do the same,'" van Uytvanck told the press, after the match. "And I was like, ‘Okay! Let’s keep fighting.’”
Van Uytvanck extended her winning streak at the Budapest event to nine straight matches after her two-hour and 15-minute escape against Alexandrova, in the first meeting between the two players. Van Uytvanck got 75 percent of her first serves in play as her quest for a third WTA singles title continues. The Belgian won in Quebec City in 2017, in addition to her Budapest title last year.
In the final, the top seed will face No.8 seed Marketa Vondrousova. The 19-year-old Czech had a much more straightforward semifinal result, blasting past 17-year-old Anastasia Potapova of Russia, 6-0, 6-2, after a comprehensive 61-minute encounter. Vondrousova, who won in Biel in 2017, seeks her second WTA singles title.
Alexandrova started the first semifinal off with a bang, breaking van Uytvanck in the opening game. The Russian ended the set with a service break as well, blasting a forehand winner to take the opening frame in 30 minutes. Alexandrova had nine winners to van Uytvanck’s three during that timeframe, and she never faced a break point.
The Russian won ten straight points to open the second set, holding a game point to lead 3-0. But van Uytvanck used her forehand to turn that game around and gain her first break of the match. The Belgian then hit deep returns to get a second break and take a lead at 4-3, and she held onto that advantage, controlling rallies with deep forehands en route to a service hold for 6-4.
Alexandrova started the third set with momentum, winning 11 of the first 12 points and holding triple game point for a 3-0 lead. However, van Uytvanck again turned the third game of the set around, breaking back for 2-1 in a near-carbon copy of the second set.
The Alexandrova groundstrokes were able to put her up a break again for 4-2, but van Uytvanck got back on serve at 5-4 with a backhand return winner on her second break point. However, the Belgian’s fightback was nearly ended in that game, when she stared down three match points, but solid serving pulled the Belgian through a dire predicament, and she held for 5-5.
The duo moved into a decisive final-set tiebreak, where a backhand winner by Alexandrova gave her a 6-4 lead and two more match points. Van Uytvanck saved the first with a forehand winner, and the second was squandered by a backhand error by the Russian, leveling the breaker at 6-6.
It was then Alexandrova’s turn to stave off match points, and though she saved one with an incredible backhand passing shot down the line to reach 7-7, a forehand error by the Russian that went just long at 8-7 gave van Uytvanck a tremendous comeback win, earning her ninth straight victory in Budapest.
"It’s never easy getting into the tournament as the defending champion," van Uytvanck admitted. "I was just like, ‘Let’s play each match. If you win, you win; if you lose, there’s another tournament ahead.’ I tried to keep the pressure away from me.”
The second semi-final went quickly, as Vondrousova opened the match with a 22-minute bagel first set. Potapova hit 16 unforced errors to just four winners in the opening frame, as she struggled to keep her shots in play and was unable to convert either of her two break points in the set.
But Vondrousova played a clean, powerful match from top to bottom, and was unfazed when Potapova held to start the second set and get on the board. The Czech broke for a 2-1 lead with a thundering crosscourt lefty forehand, and was untroubled from that point forward.
Vondrousova did not face a break point in the second set, and while Potapova was more stingy with her unforced errors during that stretch, it would not be enough to get by the Czech, who finished the match with 15 winners to just 12 unforced errors. An overhead winner on her first match point gave Vondrousova the victory and a spot against van Uytvanck in Sunday's final.
"I think I served good and I was better at the rallies, but it wasn’t an easy match," Vondrousova told the media, after her win. "I keep playing my game and fighting every match."
Vondrousova won her only meeting with van Uytvanck, at a Challenger event in Slovakia in 2017. "We played once on clay two years ago, so it’s going to be very difficult tomorrow," said Vondrousova. "I think she’s a great player, she won last year so she’s very good here. We will see how it goes."