A mere three days ago, world No47 Barbora Strycova was down 2-6, 0-3, against Julia Goerges and looked on her way towards yet another early exit from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
On Saturday, the Czech 29-year-old will play the Dubai final, where she takes on former runner-up Sara Errani for a chance to win her first title since 2011 and just the second of her career.
Strycova, the third Czech woman to reach the Dubai title match in the last four years, halted a comeback from Caroline Garcia in the semi-finals on Friday night, to defeat the French world No38 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in a two-hour 13-minute contest.
Errani booked her place in her second career Dubai final with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Elina Svitolina, who was trying to emulate her newly-minted coaching consultant Justine Henin, who is a four-time champion in the Emirates.
This will be Errani’s first Premier-level final since Rome 2014 and the Italian is undoubtedly pleased to advance but Friday also saw her squander five match points alongside her doubles partner Carla Suarez Navarro in their 5-7, 7-6 (5), 10-7 bizarre loss to Chuang Chia-Jung and Darija Jurak in a two-hour battle.
“Well, at the moment very angry for the doubles, but of course, yes, to be in the final in singles is really special and amazing for me,” said Errani, who is renowned for her consistent style, running down every ball – a quality that paid dividends against Svitolina.
She looked evidently tired after a day where she played back-to-back semis in singles and doubles.
“I’m tired, but I know how to play when you’re tired. I just try to fight,” said the 28-year-old.
“I don’t think I’m really fit. I think there are other persons that are maybe much better than me physically, but I think I just try to fight, to suffer on the court and still keep going, stay there even if I’m dead.”
The good news for Errani is that she has a strong 5-1 record against Strycova, her final opponent.
Their most recent meeting was a third-set tiebreak win for Errani in Eastbourne last year.
“It’s going to be tough one. I lost to Sara in Eastbourne. It’s on grass. But I lost from two match points down. So revenge,” Strycova said with a big grin on her face.
The Czech has a fun personality, on and off the court, although mid-match she can get emotionally explosive.
She was composed enough to beat Garcia on Friday though, despite the Frenchwoman’s spirited comeback attempt.
Strycova entered the contest with a 3-1 head-to-head lead over Garcia, including an easy win over the 22-year-old in the Australian Open first round last month.
Garcia, a player picked by Andy Murray five years ago as a future world No1, was playing her first-ever semi-final at a Premier-level tournament, thanks to wins over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, No3 seed Carla Suarez Navarro and former top-tenner Andrea Petkovic earlier in the week.
Strycova drew first blood, breaking Garcia to go up 3-2 and spark a seven-game winning run, taking the first set along the way.
Garcia finally stopped the bleeding three games into the second set and took four games on the trot to inch ahead 4-2.
Strycova got the break back right away but Garcia got the advantage once again to serve for the set at 5-3.
The Frenchwoman struck a sublime backhand down the line to seal the set and force a decider.
Garcia kept things up as she broke to open the third set but she netted an easy slice to surrender the break.
A long backhand from Garcia gave Strycova two break points in game eight. Garcia saved both but faltered on the third and the Czech broke to put herself in the position to serve for the match.
Strycova saved two break points then aced twice to move into the final.
Asked when was the last time she finished a match with two aces, the 1.64m Strycova laughed and said: “Never… I’m so small, so for me it’s good to put an ace. And two in a row to serving for match, it feels great.
“It feels great to be in the final. I can’t believe it, actually, because it wasn’t easy match for me today.”
Sara Errani held off a strong challenge to defeat Elina Svitolina 6-4 6-4 and reach her second final at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
In a match of long baseline rallies, each player struggled to gain the upper hand. Svitolina saved a break point in the opening game and was then broken for 2-1 when she netted a forehand, but Errani’s lead was short-lived as she double-faulted in the next game to drop her own serve. Svitolina then faced break point for the third straight game but held for 3-2, before Errani broke again at 3-3 on her fifth break point.
Svitolina continued to struggle in her service games in the second set, fighting off two break points to hold for 1-0, breaking for 3-1 but then allowing Errani to immediately break back and then break again to lead 4-3. In the closest of battles, Errani then had to recover from 0-30 as she closed out the match.
Errani will face Barbora Strycova in the final on Saturday.
It’s always great having my family around at a tournament.
I come from a very athletic family, where each one of us competed – or has competed in a sport.
I’m so proud of all of us. What is crazy is that we are four, my mum, my dad, myself and my younger brother and we all play different sports.
What is cool about it is that we all – almost – are professional. I say ‘almost’ because my brother is the younger one and he’s now trying to turn professional and he just signed his first contract with a professional club and my dad used to be a handball goalkeeper playing for the national ex-Yugoslavia team and for many years in the first division in France, very famous, he has an Olympic gold medal, and my mum used to play volleyball also at the highest level for the national team of former Yugoslavia.
My younger brother he’s a very promising and talented footballer. And me tennis, I managed to make a career out of it as well, so sport really is in our blood in our family.
The nicest thing is that our parents didn’t push us to go into sport. We’re not doing their sport, some families, the parents try to push the kids and kind of relive a second time their life that they enjoyed, to live it a second time. But for us it’s completely different, it’s not like that at all.
We’re also very competitive with each other. When we go on holidays, we play beach volley – I also used to be play volleyball when I was younger – or we would make goals and my dad would be the goalkeeper and my brother and I would shoot overheads, trying to score goals past him. It’s quite a fun dynamic.
We are all talented and can play any sport really. Sometimes it’s annoying for our friends because when they come over to our house, we only watch sport on TV, if not football, it’s volleyball, if not that it’s handball or tennis…
It helps so much that my parents were professional athletes themselves because every day I have such great support from them, they understand my life, you don’t have to explain things.
Sometimes when you’re not in the same job or environment, there can be some misunderstandings but with our family it’s so nice, we are all so sporty.