'S-HERTOGENBOSCH, Netherlands - In the first career meeting between two promising talents with birthdays in 1997, it was Russian Natalia Vikhlyantseva who powered into her first WTA final at the Ricoh Open on Saturday, ousting No.5 seed Ana Konjuh, 6-3, 7-5.
"I feel very lucky right now. I was not expecting this," Vikhlyantseva said. "Right now, I'm in the final. It's a very happy moment for me today, and I will enjoy tomorrow. I will try and forget the occasion and play a normal match.
"Everybody has their favourite surface - clay, hard...but grass is my surface - and with a result like this, I like it even more!"
The Russian will face another player on the rise this year in Estonian Anett Kontaveit, who defeated No.7 seed Lesia Tsurenko in a two-hour second semifinal, 6-3, 6-7(0), 6-2.
A love break in the fourth game of the opening set was enough to decide the opener for the Russian, though she was forced to save a pair of break points of her own in the following game.
Though Konjuh surrendered just seven points behind her serve in the opening set, four came in the crucial fourth game, and she was unable to make inroads on the Vikhlyantseva delivery for the rest of the way.
Vikhlyantseva again built a 3-1 lead to begin the second, but given a second chance, Konjuh hit back with a love break of her own in the sixth game to level the set. Proceedings went on serve from there, and the No.5 seed found herself two points from leveling the match as she pulled to within 30-30 with the Russian serving at 4-5, but saw her unseeded opponent hold on from there to win the last three games of the match.
The Russian had her breakthrough at the St. Petersburg Ladies' Trophy in February, as she reached the semifinals of the Premier-level event as a wildcard before falling to eventual champion Kristina Mladenovic. Since there, it was hardly smooth sailing for the World No.74, as she didn't win a set in her last five matches on the clay.
"I had six losses in a row before this - it was a bad two months after St. Petersburg," Vikhlyantseva said. "It was actually eight losses in a row if you include doubles, so this is a nice way to end that run!"
After Kontaveit and Tsurenko split sets in the day's second semifinal and went with serve in the first five games of the decider, it was the World No.49 who amped up her aggression and accuracy off the ground to win the last four games and book her place in her second final of the season.
Kontaveit put herself in charge in the opening set after a key third game, in which she toughed out a lengthy hold and saved two break points. That kicked off a run of three straight games for the Estonian, as she built a 4-1 lead in the opener, which she later claimed 6-3.
In the second set, Tsurenko twice led by a break, but Kontaveit hit back each time to twice draw level at 4-4 and 5-5, rallying from 0-30 down on serve to keep her second set hopes alive at 4-5.
Nonetheless, the tiebreak was one-way traffic for the No.7 seed, as she used aggressive counterpunching from the baseline to force errors from the Kontaveit racquet, and claimed all seven points to send the match to a decider. In a set that was decided by the slimmest of margins, Tsurenko won exactly seven more points, but earned them when it mattered most - as the two had each won 40 points in the hotly contested second set headed into the tiebreak.
"I'm so happy to be in the final and won't take anything for granted," Kontaveit said. "I won't prepare any differently to how I've been all week. I come into every tournament wanting to do as well as I can and to get this far is unbelievable. The courts here are great and really allow me to play my best tennis.
"It's my second WTA final and hopefully, I can get my hands on the title tomorrow."
In the doubles final, unseeded Dominika Cibulkova and Kirsten Flipkens capped a stunning run to the title as they defeated No.2 seeds Kiki Bertens and Demi Schuurs in a match tiebreak, 4-6, 6-4, 10-6. The duo beat three seeded teams en route to the title, including top seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Timea Babos in the quarterfinals, and No.3 seeds CoCo Vandeweghe and Xenia Knoll in the semifinals.
The victory is Cibulkova's first doubles title of any kind, at all levels, in her third appearance in the doubles final in 's-Hertogenbosch.