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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, February 23, 2018

Daria Kasatkina delivered dizzying combinations and spirited defiance to storm into the Dubai final.

A stubborn Kasatkina fought off three match points in the second-set tie break then deconstructed Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza 3-6, 7-6 (11), 6-1, to reach her first final of the season.

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It was a contrast of styles pitting Muguruza's flat strokes and aggression agaisnt Kasatkina's varied spins and angles.

Showing guts and guile, Kasatkina grew stronger as the match progressed and played cleaner tennis overall committing 38 unforced errors compared to 60 for the Doha finalist. Kasatkina was sharp transitioning from defense to offense, took the initiative staving off match points and lifted her level against a fading Muguruza in the decider..

"You're very upset, normally, when you lose a match that you had match points," Muguruza said. "Because I'm not in the final and she is and it's very disappointing.

"But I was there. I was expecting a very difficult match and that was an option. The first one went my side and this went her side so I'm looking forward to the third one."

It is Kasatkina's fifth career win over a Top 5-ranked opponent—she's now 5-6 lifetime vs. Top 5 opposition—and the second time in the tournament she denied match points pulling off dramatic comeback victories.

The 20-year-old Russian repelled two match points in the second-set tie break of her 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-2 win over seventh-seeded Johanna Konta in a three-hour thriller on Wednesday night. She's now saved five match points this week reaching her third career final.

Adding to today's drama, a Kasatkina forehand that touched the back edge of the baseline was incorrectly called out on match point. Kasatkina successfully challenged, then fired a forehand to save the match point.

Refusing to lose on court, the world No. 24 was at a loss to explain her match-point heroics.

"I have no idea (how I saved match points) actually," Kasatkina said in her on-court interview. "I don't know really. Actually I thought (my shot) was long. My reaction said it all. "The best thing about (match-point pressure) is that you don't have to think about it. You just play and enjoy. Thanks everybody for coming I'm playing for you."

The 2017 Charleston champion will play defending champion Elina Svitolina in tomorrow's final.

The top-seeded Svitolina swept an erratic Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 6-3, in the day's second semifinal.

Svitolina beat Kerber for the fifth straight time charging into her second final of the season.

In a rematch of the 2017 semifinals, Svitolina exploited seven double faults from Kerber, who twice double-faulted away service breaks in the first set.  

"We always have tough battles," said Svitolina, who defeated Kerber for the seventh time in 12 meetings. "I try to really focus on what I have to do on court and really don’t have anything else in my head. It was a good match."

The fourth-ranked Ukrainian opened the season winning her 10th title of the season in Brisbane. Svitolina, who has won her last seven semifinals, has won both of her prior meetings with Kasatkina.

"I’m very pleased that I’m again in the final," Svitolina told Annabel Croft afterward. "I always like to play here in Dubai. She plays well. She had tough matches on the road to the final. It's definitely going to be a good final and I’m looking forward to it."

Kasatkina can crack the Top 20 by taking the title as she plays to become the first Russian woman since Elena Dementia in 2008 to rule Dubai.

Shifting directions, Kasatkina came out playing clever combinations earning four break points in the opening game. Muguuza dug in and denied all four break points working through a seven-and-a-half minute hold.

The two-time Grand Slam champion's flat, forcing strokes began to take a toll on the 20-year-old Russian's defense midway through the set.

Breaking open a neutral rally, Muguruza blasted a backhand winner down the line for break point. Attacking, Muguruza scraped out a deep volley coaxing a lob long to gain the lone break of the set for 4-2.

After the seventh game, Kasatkina's coach, Philippe Dehaes, came out on court urging his charge to hit her forehand with more vigor.

"Keep going," Dehaes said. "If you slow down, you have no chance."

Muguruza served out the 37-minute opener at love making the single break stand up.

The Wimbledon champion cranked eight winners compared to two for Kasatkina, who failed to convert on four break-point chances.

Showing superb court coverage and defensive skills, Kasatkina drained an error from her powerful opponent on a bounce smash. Determination and ball-control skills helped her hold for a 3-2 second-set lead.

Struggling to control her forehand down the line, the world No. 24 sailed that shot to face a fourth break point and got away with a short reply to fight it off. Continuing to bang away at the Kasatkina forehand, Muguruza converted her fifth break point for 4-3 when Kasatkina framed a forehand wide.

Playing her sloppiest game of the match, Muguruza fell into a triple break-point hole then clipped a double-fault gift-wrapping the break back at love.

A stubborn Kasatkina rallied from triple-break point down in the ninth game then saved a fourth break point.

On her sixth break point, Muguruza blistered a backhand return winner scoring her third break for 5-4.

Serving for the final, Muguruza erased a pair of break points, including slashing her third ace down the middle on the second. But a nervy double fault into net brought up a third break point and Muguruza missed a backhand down the line surrending serve.

Sliding her sixth ace down the middle, Muguruza forced the tie break.

A bruising 35-shot rally ended with Mugurza clipping the tape with a backhand as Kasatkina evened the breaker, 3-all.

A pressure-packed breaker turned thriller as Kasatkina fought off three match points—at 7-8, 8-9 and 9-10—including using a challenge to overturn an incorrect out call on her forehand that nicked the baseline on the first match point. They replayed the point and Kasatkina cranked a forehand winner.

The fierce tie break struggle that spanned 18 minutes ended when Muguruza missed successive wild forehands. Kasatkina's entire support box leaped from their feet celebrating her spirited stand that forced a final set after two hours, four minutes.

Muguruza, who converted just two of 11 break points in the set, surrendered serve to start the final set. Kasatkina confirmed the break at love for 2-0.

Both of Muguruza's coaches, Sam Sumyk and Conchita Martinez, were courtside. Martinez came out on court to provide encouragement for the world No. 3 after the third game, but there was no return for the disconsolate power player.

Two hours and twenty four minutes into the match, Kasatkina dragged Muguruza around the court with a shrewd array of topspin, the drop shot a lob and finally a jolting forehand to earn another break point. When a weary Muguruza netted a forehand, the 20-year-old Russian had a 4-1 double-break lead.

Kasatkina fired success forehand winners for 5-1 and broke again to close a physical battle in two hours, 33 minutes. 


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