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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 March 2019

Dubai Tennis 2019: Happy Belinda Bencic ready for 'tough' final against Petra Kvitova

The world No 37 beat the defending champion Elina Svitolina in three sets and will face Kvitova for the title on Saturday

Belinda Bencic celebrates her win over Elina Svitolina in Dubai. AFP
Belinda Bencic celebrates her win over Elina Svitolina in Dubai. AFP

Swiss star Belinda Bencic said she had been “barely breathing” during the tie-break thriller that saw off two-time defending champion Elina Svitolina on Friday and sealed a spot in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final.

The world No 45, still only 21, ended her opponent’s bid for an historic third successive Dubai crown, coming through a dramatic Centre Court clash to triumph 6-2, 3-6, 7-6. At one point, Svitolina served for the match.

Yet Bencic displayed superb fortitude to take the tie-break 7-3 and advance into her most notable final since Toronto in 2015. She faces two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in Saturday’s showpiece.

“I'm just incredibly happy how I turned it around once again,” said Bencic, who survived six match points in the last 16 against Aryna Sabalenka and rallied from a set down in the quarters to recent world No 1 Simona Halep – both times clinching shock victories.

“Basically I stayed in the zone, even in the tiebreak," Bencic added. "I was barely breathing, just playing automatic. You are not thinking any more. It's where the instincts just guide you through it.”

Bencic had raced through the opening set in only 26 minutes. However, Svitolina bounced back in the second set to draw level, before grabbing what seemed a crucial break in the seventh game of the decider. It was the first time she had led all match.

Svitolina, 24, served at 5-4 for a place in the final, but Bencic broke back brilliantly to love, securing parity once her rival had double-faulted.

Another double-fault at the beginning of the 12th game piled the pressure on Svitolina as she attempted to save the match but, to her credit, she repelled three match points to force a tie-break.

Bencic would have the last laugh, though, holding her nerve to lob Svitolina and thus prevail on her fourth match point. She will now contest her first Premier 500 final since the Rodgers Cup almost four years ago.

“I haven't thought about Toronto at all in the last moments,” the former world No 7 said. Of course it means a lot to be in the final. But you don't realise when you're playing that it's a Premier 5.

“Even if it's a 25,000 tournament, you're still the same. In the court, you're not thinking about all this. Definitely when I will realise it, I will be very happy.

“I'm always the most proud of how I fight. Even when I lose, I learned to just look in the mirror and be proud of myself when I'm fighting, when I'm giving my all, when I'm trying to do what I have to do. I'll always be proud of that. That will be my No 1 goal always.”

Bencic knows Kvitova well having played her in the third round at last month’s Australian Open. There, the Czech won in straight sets before going all the way to the final. Such was Kvitova’s form in Melbourne, that Bencic started a hashtag on Instagram entitled “Petra’s victims”.

There she was on the roll,” Bencic said. “Petra crushed all of us. We were trying so hard. It was 6-2, 6-1, then 6-3, 6-1, until the final. That's why I said it.

“Of course she's in great form. Maybe this tournament I'm also in great form. It will be a tough final. The final is always two great players. I'm very happy to play her. Yeah, we'll see. Hopefully I will not be Petra's victim.”

For Svitolina, the semi-final loss brought to a halt her 12-match winning streak in Dubai. She had No 13 in her own hands right at the death, but could not serve out the victory when it mattered most.

“It was difficult, as you can see,” Svitolina said. “I didn't do so many first serves. That's why I think I lost that game. I wish I could play better.

“I made some unforced errors in the moments where I wasn’t supposed to make errors. But I know she took her chance. That was the end. Nothing much to say.”

Updated: February 22, 2019 10:54 PM

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