DUBAI (AFP) - Jelena Ostapenko came back from a set down for a third consecutive match as she overcame former world No. 1 Simona Halep 2-6, 7-6 (7-0), 6-0 to reach the final of the WTA event in Dubai on Friday (Feb 18).
The Latvian, who knocked out sixth seed Iga Swiatek in the second round and saved a match point before ousting Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals, will take on Russian world No. 31 Veronika Kudermetova in Saturday's title decider.
The free-swinging Ostapenko has knocked out four Grand Slam champions en route to the final, and denied Halep a shot at claiming a third Dubai crown.
Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open winner, is through to the 11th final of her career, where she will be looking to clinch her first hard-court title since 2019.
"Playing a Grand Slam champion fourth match in a row, it's not easy," said the 24-year-old.
"Just happy with the way I was fighting. When things didn't go my way because I felt a little bit exhausted in the beginning, I needed time to just maybe get warmer and, yeah, just managed to win the match."
It was the third meeting between the pair, and the first since 2017, when an unseeded Ostapenko shocked Halep in the Roland Garros final - after trailing the Romanian by a set and a break - before Halep avenged that defeat in Beijing a few months later, which secured her the No. 1 ranking.
Halep drew first blood, breaking Ostapenko's serve in game five before doubling her advantage to take the opening set in a mere 26 minutes, wrapping it up with back-to-back aces.
Ostapenko started the second set with renewed purpose, carving a 3-0 lead aided by an uncharacteristically sloppy service game from Halep. But the 30-year-old responded immediately and they were soon back on level terms.
Double faults began to creep into Halep's game, and despite saving two set points on her serve en route to the tie-break, the Romanian could not win a single point in the breaker as Ostapenko took the contest into a decider.
The Latvian big-hitter sped to a 5-0 lead as Halep, a two-time Grand Slam winner, lost confidence in her serve. Serving for the victory, Ostapenko swatted away two break points before punching her ticket to the final.
"I knew I have to play aggressive no matter what, no matter what the score is," said Ostapenko, who will return to the top 20 for the first time since 2018 on Monday.
"She really doesn't like to play against players who are playing aggressive and take time away from her. I really knew that I have to do it today, all the match, even if I miss sometimes, which I did. I think it helped me to win."
Kudermetova moved into the final without hitting a ball after her semi-final opponent Marketa Vondrousova was forced to withdraw ahead of their clash, citing a right adductor injury.
The Czech left-hander had won six matches this week in Dubai through qualifying and the main draw but said she has to prioritise her health as she shifts her focus to next week's Qatar Open.
"The injury, it started a few days ago and I've played so many matches here which has aggravated the injury," said the former Roland Garros runner-up.
"I'm really sad to leave the tournament this way but I've still enjoyed a great week and I'm proud of how I've played."