Dubai Tennis: Elina Svitolina is ready for 'fearless' Daria Kasatkina in the final

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When Elina Svitolina is asked how she plans on countering the fearlessness of Daria Kasatkina in Saturday’s Dubai final the top seed quickly rejects the notion that her opponent has no fear.

“Well, everyone fears something. There is not really ‘fearless’. There’s no such thing like that,” said Svitolina, who is just one win away from defending her Dubai title following her 6-3, 6-3 semi-final triumph over Angelique Kerber on Friday.

“Yeah, she had tough road to the final. I will just try to focus on my game, as I did before. She produces good game. But I will try to be ready and, yeah, just take next opponent on.”

Kasatkina saved three match points against Garbine Muguruza before sending the No. 2 seed packing in a 3-6, 7-6 (11), 6-1 thriller in front of a buoyant crowd at the Aviation Club on Friday.

That came just two days after she saved two match points to defeat No. 7 seed Johanna Konta in the last-16 on Wednesday.

“After winning two matches from match points, I’m not scared of anything already. Playing tiebreak every match, no, I’m scared,” declared Kasatkina on Friday.

The 20-year-old giant-slayer, who is guaranteed a new career-high ranking of 20 on Monday, and could go higher if she wins the title, is through to her third career final, playing some sensational tennis.

Kasatkina has spent nine hours and five minutes on court so far en route to the final, compared to four hours and 57 minutes for Svitolina, who played one less match due to her bye in the first round.

It’s understandable if the world No. 24 might not have enough left in the tank for Saturday’s showdown.

“It’s already final, so I have to put, like, everything that’s left in my body into this match. I hope I will,” said Kasatkina, who trails Svitolina 0-2 head-to-head.

The 23-year-old Svitolina is looking to become just the third woman to defend the Dubai title alongside Justine Henin and Venus Williams while Kasatkina could become just the second Russian woman to lift the trophy here, following Elena Dementieva in 2008.

Kasatkina looked down and out when Muguruza was serving for the match at 6-3, 5-4. But Kasatkina broke the Spaniard’s serve and the set eventually went to a tiebreak.

Both players upped the ante and it was a real nail-biter that saw Kasatkina save three match points and Muguruza save three set points before the underdog sealed the deal 13-11.

Muguruza, the reigning Wimbledon champion, ran out of steam in the decider as Kasatkina’s heroics once again got her through.

In their most recent previous meeting, Kasatkina served for the match and held match point before losing to Muguruza in the Brisbane last-16 last year.

It was a role reversal this time around.

“My first set point in the tiebreak, I was serving, and the picture from Brisbane last year I had in front of my face,” Kasatkina admitted following her win on Friday.

“Just I was smiling inside. I looked at my brother because I think he also knew I was going to remind this thing. Yeah, it was special match, for sure.”

Asked for a reason why she won against Muguruza, Kasatkina said: “Who knows. He knows (looking up to God). When you’re winning from match points, you don’t know why.

“I was just trying to fight for every ball because Garbine, she’s playing unbelievable. She’s very tough opponent. She’s hitting so hard, playing so fast. I was just trying to do whatever I could.”

Kasatkina came to Dubai with “no expectations” after retiring with a neck injury in her Doha opener the previous week.

She has since played over nine hours of tennis and is one of two last women standing in the tournament.

“Actually, before the (Muguruza semi-final) match I was really, really tired. When you’re going on court, adrenaline is coming, and you just can forget about it. You start to run, blood start to run into your body, that’s it. You’re just focused on every ball. The tiredness is somewhere, going somewhere, yeah,” said Kasatkina.

On her part, Svitolina is looking forward to her second consecutive Dubai final, after claiming a seventh win over Kerber in 12 meetings.

Last year, Dubai was, at the time, her biggest title triumph, and one that saw her crack the top-10 for the first time. Today she is No. 4 in the world and owns 10 career titles.

Looking back to how she felt on the eve of her Dubai final last year, Svitolina said: “I was definitely a little nervous because I had much more things, like I was reaching top-10 for the first time, it was my biggest title at the time. This time is different. Still I’m very excited for the final. But still it is different.”

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