Daria Kasatkina came back from the brink for a second time this week, saving three match points against Garbine Muguruza to upset the No. 2 seed 3-6, 7-6 (11), 6-1 in a dramatic affair on Friday to reach the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
The 20-year-old Russian, who saved two match points against Johanna Konta in the second round on Wednesday, once again showcased grit and courage to claim her first victory over Muguruza in three meetings, and reach the third WTA final of her career.
Of the four semi-finalists, Kasatkina had spent the most time on court heading into her showdown with Muguruza, having battled through six hours and 32 minutes of tennis in her opening three rounds, including a three-hour battle Konta.
In comparison, Muguruza had spent a total of three hours and 29 minutes on court prior to their semi-final, but she played one less match due to her bye in the first round.
Kasatkina, the youngest Russian to make the semi-finals in Dubai since Victoria Azarenka reached the last-four in 2010, is looking to become just the second woman from her country to win the title here at the Aviation Club and first since Elena Dementieva in 2008.
She is guaranteed a career-high ranking of No. 22 on Monday but could break the top-20 for the first time if she wins the Dubai title.
In their most recent encounter, Kasatkina served for the match and held a match point before losing to Muguruza in the Brisbane last-16 last year.
The tables turned this time around.
Friday’s match was a thriller from the get-go.
The pair engaged in some punishing lengthy rallies from the start and hung on to their own service games before Muguruza broke for a 4-2 lead on a long lob from Kasatkina.
Some spot-on serving from the Spaniard saw her wrap up the opening set in 37 minutes.
The stands were the fullest they’d been all week, and spectators were in a good mood, starting Mexican waves and cheering with gusto. But they applauded midway through a point during the fifth game of the second set when Kasatkina hit a lob and their reaction distracted Muguruza who missed the following overhead smash.
It prompted umpire Kader Nouni to warn them to wait until the end of the point before clapping.
A marathon seventh game that lasted over 10 minutes gave Muguruza the break for 4-3. Up to that point, the No. 2 seed had dropped just one point on her serve in the second set. Yet somehow she got broken in the next game, at love, as Kasatkina drew level for 4-all.
The Russian fell behind 0-40 in the next game but produced some huge cross-court forehands and serves to save five break points. But after seven minutes of back-and-forth, Muguruza got the break to put herself in a position to serve for the match.
But Kasatkina wasn’t going down without a fight. She painted the line with a forehand to get two break points. Muguruza came up with two big serves to get to deuce, but she double-faulted to face a third break point. This time the Spaniard sent a ball wide and Kasatkina was back in it at 5-all.
The set went to a tiebreak and Muguruza quickly went up 3-0. But Kasatkina pegged her back, drawing level on a 36-shot rally.
The world No. 24 got her first set point at 6-5 but a bold Muguruza covered the net well and found the winner to save it.
A long forehand from Muguruza gave Kasatkina a second set point but the Wimbledon champion again found her serve when she needed it to get out of trouble.
Muguruza got her hands on a first match point at 8-7. The point had to be replayed due to a wrong call from a line judge that was correctly challenged by Kasatkina. A gutsy forehand saw her save the match point for 8-8.
Kasatkina double-faulted to give Muguruza another match point, this time on the Spaniard’s serve, But again Kasatkina saves it with some heroic shot-making for 9-all.
Muguruza got her hands on a third match point but committed a 40th unforced error, an 11th off the backhand side, to let it slip away. She then netted a volley to give Kasatkina a third set point at 11-10. It was the youngster’s turn to make the backhand error and they were back tied at 11-11.
Kasatkina finally took the set on her fourth opportunity to force a decider.
She then broke to start the third set claimed two more breaks to secure a memorable victory in two hours and 33 minutes.