at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Doha – Simona Halep, voted newcomer of the year on the WTA Tour, served up a second shock in two days on Saturday, beating Agnieszka Radwanska to reach the final of the Qatar Open.
The 22-year-old Romanian not only overwhelmed Radwanska, the second-seeded former Wimbledon finalist, by 7-5, 6-2, but unleashed an unstoppable torrent of winners which suggested that a climb up the top 10 is more than likely.
Early on Halep exchanged cagey rallies with the intelligent and skilful Radwanska and went 2-5 down, before stepping up the pace so penetratingly and consistently that she transformed the match by taking seven games in a row.
“I knew that playing the way I was it was not possible to win,” said Halep. “So I started to play more aggressive, and play more crosses and short crosses, and to finish the points, and take the chances.”
By that Halep meant that she not only forced Radwanska to defend for long periods, but hit cross-court drives to open up the court, and missed very few chances to finish rallies off.
She also had a very destructive drop shot, which had psychological as well as tactical value. Once she started playing in this vein the only surprise was that she had not attempted it earlier.
It followed Halep's comprehensive demolition yesterday of Sara Errani, the fourth-seeded Italian, for the loss of only two games, and it suggested that none of this was temporary.
Halep climbed 40 places in little more than a year to reach world number 10 at the start of 2014 and looks capable of going on to big things after her attempt on her seventh title tomorrow.
That will see the young Romanian play Angelique Kerber, the hard-working sixth-seeded German who has played 20 matches already this year, and who also upset the seedings with another diligent performance.
Kerber reached the final in the city she has made her training base by quelling a spirited fight-back from Jelena Jankovic, which had looked likely to carry the match into a third set until it ended with a dramatic misfortune.
The former world number one from Serbia had recovered from a poor start to move within two points of forcing the decider before losing 6-1, 7-6 (8-6) when Kerber's retrieval under pressure clipped the top of the net and fell dead.
Jankovic, who had become the aggressor in a majority of the rallies in the second set, looked as if she had seen a ghost.
Kerber was merely relieved to have snatched victory any way she could, especially as she had also won the first set in their encounter in Brisbane last month but still lost.
A major part of Kerber's success came because she prevailed in two monster games in the middle of the second set, one with six deuces, the other with seven.
She saved three break points in the first and three game points in the second, and could easily have been 2-5 down.
At this stage Jankovic was hitting the harder of the two and had productive spells when she directed attacks to the Kerber backhand before trying to open up the court with angles. She was also the more effective player at the net.
There was more danger when Jankovic came from 3-5 down to lead 6-5, but could not get further than two deuces in the 12th game nor further than 5-4 up in the tie-break.
In those vital last two rallies, Kerber first defended tenaciously and then traded blow-for-blow to force a Jankovic forehand to slide wide. And then on match point she saw the ball strike the tape and take that match-deciding plunge.
“I was just happy that the ball went over,” she admitted, before adding: “I did say sorry.” – AFP