DUBAI (AFP) - Karolina Pliskova, the steep-serving 22-year-old from Prague who last month became the youngest player in the current top 20, reached the biggest final of her career with her third outstanding win at the Dubai Open.
Having already ousted two seeded players Pliskova followed it with a nerve-shredding 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 victory over Garbine Muguruza, an elegantly gifted 21-year-old from Barcelona, and snatched a memorable victory just as her chances seemed to be fading.
Pliskova always had the steeper more dangerous serve, and her 13 aces extended her year's total to 145, the most on the WTA Tour.
But there were phases near the end when it seemed that might not be enough.
She had to save two break points at 3-4 in the final set, holding serve with the help of a video review which showed she had landed another ace, and then slipped to love-40 when she was trying to close the match out at 6-5.
Throughout much of the second half of the final set Muguruza, who had beaten three seeds herself, possessed the more supple and flexible game, giving her more options in a tricky wind.
But in the fraught final game Pliskova was prepared to gamble on hitting flat and hard, something which paid off as she clawed back four points in a row, and six out of seven, to close the match out.
"I felt tired so I wasn't expecting it," said Pliskova, who could rise to a career high world number 12 irrespective of the result of tomorrow's final.
"We both have great serves so it doesn't matter if you go love 30 or love 40 down."
Pliskova looked the more dominant player in the first set but took a long time to make it count, needing ten break points before she was able to convert one.
That happened in the seventh game, and it was enough to take the set. Much might have been different though if Muguruza had taken the option of calling for a video review at a vital stage in the sixth game.
It happened when Pliskova was break point down, and her first serve was deemed to have been an ace after the umpire over-ruled the line judge's call.
TV replays showed the line judge to have been correct however, and after Muguruza accepted the wrong call, she was unable to win the rally against Pliskova's second serve.
Muguruza began to make better progress in the second set, earning four break points in the sixth game, none of which she was able to convert, and getting one set point in the ninth game. That chance too eluded her.
But Pliskova delivered a double fault at the start of the 10th game, and then another to concede the set, and for a while afterwards it seemed that Muguruza might be the more likely winner.
She could not force home her best chance though, allowing the Czech to go through to her first 500 level tournament final, against either Simona Halep, the top-seeded Rumanian, or Caroline Wozniacki, the former world No. 1 from Denmark.